Lo­cal lead­ers con­cerned about 911 ‘mid­dle­man’

Provincewide emer­gency sys­tem set to roll out this month

The Compass - - SPORTS - BYMELISSA JENK­INS Melissa.jenk­ins@tc.tc

It has been two decades in the mak­ing, but the an­tic­i­pated in­tro­duc­tion of provincewide 911 in New­found­land and Labrador hap­pens this month.

But some are not as ex­cited to see it ar­rive as oth­ers.

Har­bour Grace Deputy Mayor Sonia Wil­liams is also an emer­gency med­i­cal re­spon­der (EMR) and a fire­fighter. She un­der­stands first hand the ef­fects of im­ple­ment­ing provincewide 911 on smaller com­mu­ni­ties.

“My con­cern with (the provincewide 911 sys­tem) is a per­son will call 911 in their town, whether they want fire, am­bu­lance or po­lice,” she ex­plained. “That’s an ad­di­tional call.”

Adding this ad­di­tional call, Wil­liams says, could de­lay help.

“Min­utes makes a dif­fer­ence in an emer­gency — med­i­cal or fire,” she said.

It has been avail­able on the North­east Avalon, Cor­ner Brook and Labrador, but soon any­one will be able to pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1 in the event of an emer­gency.

When a per­son calls 911, the per­son on the re­ceiv­ing end will be based in a call cen­tre in St. John’s or Cor­ner Brook. They will con­tact the ap­pro­pri­ate po­lice sta­tion, am­bu­lance company or fire depart­ment.

Pla­cen­tia in same po­si­tion

The mayor of Pla­cen­tia, Wayne Power Jr., is also an EMR. He has heard some of the same is­sues as Wil­liams, and thinks it can be im­proved.

“Hav­ing 911 would be a step in the right di­rec­tion,” he ex­plained. “But once you get into the de­tails, it’s just adding another step.”

Right now, the gov­ern­ment is im­ple­ment­ing a ba­sic 911 provincewide sys­tem, but that’s not the case for other prov­inces.

“It’s go­ing to be a ba­sic 911 sys­tem, while other places in Canada are bring­ing in mod­ern and en­hanced ver­sions,” Power said.

The more en­hanced ver­sions would be more in line with what some­one might see on a tele­vi­sion show, where some­one calls in, their lo­ca­tion is read­ily avail­able, the in­for­ma­tion gets in­putted into a com­puter, and emer­gency per­son­nel are dis­patched through a com­puter sys­tem.

But our prov­ince’s sys­tem won’t have dis­patch­ers, and it would be an ex­pen­sive en­deav­our to get all emer­gency re­spon­ders in the prov­ince up to speed on the new com­puter tech­nol­ogy.

Cost and jobs

A spokesper­son for Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vices-New­found­land and Labrador told The Com­pass this sys­tem car­ries an an­nual cost of $ 4.9 mil­lion to op­er­ate, while $500,000 will go to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies to cover ad­min­is­tra­tive costs. The costs in­clude es­tab­lish­ing a cen­tre in Cor­ner Brook, staff, es­tab­lish­ing the NL 911 Bureau, gov­ern­ment re­cov­ery for start up costs, re­serve fund­ing to up­grad­ing to the ‘Next Gen­er­a­tion’ 911 sys­tem and train­ing, among other ad­min­is­tra­tive costs.

St. John’s al­ready has a call cen­tre that will be up­graded with the re­quired equip­ment. The City of St. John’s will be re­spon­si­ble for staffing that cen­tre, but new staff will not be needed, the spokesper­son said.

Wil­liams wants to see dis­patch cen­tres set up lo­cally to cre­ate jobs. But the St. John’s cen­tre will cover calls for the Avalon Penin­sula, while Cor­ner Brook will han­dle the rest of the prov­ince.

Many changes to older plan

For­mer Pla­cen­tia mayor and MHA Bill Ho­gan was a part of an in­de­pen­dent fea­si­bil­ity study on im­ple­ment­ing 911 in 1994, which was ap­proved by the Clyde Well’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. Ho­gan still has a copy of this re­port.

The idea to im­ple­ment provincewide 911 was de­ferred in 1995 for con­sid­er­a­tion in the 1996-97 bud­get. Sub­se­quent Lib­eral gov­ern­ments elected not to im­ple­ment the sys­tem.

The gov­ern­ment re­port, which The Com­pass has ob­tained, iden­ti­fied the need for civic ad­dresses, some­thing that is still an is­sue in ru­ral ar­eas to­day. A data­base of th­ese ad­dresses would have been used to dis­patch emer­gency ser­vices.

Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the project was de­ferred nu­mer­ous times. The gov­ern­ing Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives an­nounced their decision to move f o r w a rd w i t h provincewide 911 in 2012.

Many of the items in the ini­tial study are not part of the ba­sic 911 pro­gram launch­ing this month. Ho­gan claims this ba­sic sys­tem is not as ad­vanced as the ini­tial plan, and that res­i­dents need to know ex­actly what they are get­ting.

“(The gov­ern­ment is) not giv­ing the prod­uct to the peo­ple that the peo­ple ex­pect,” Ho­gan stated. “The pub­lic is so used to watch­ing (TV) shows. It’s not go­ing to be like that.”

Ho­gan be­lieves an en­hanced sys­tem is still the best op­tion, and it would take three years to im­ple­ment. But it would be worth it.

“Peo­ple are talk­ing about do­ing some­thing about the moose,” he said. “Well, this is just as im­por­tant.”

Ho­gan, Wil­liams and Power all agree that ev­ery­one should still know their lo­cal emer­gency num­bers.

Com­pass file photo

Provincewide 911 will soon be­come a re­al­ity. If a fire — like the one re­ported ear­lier this year at the for­mer Bond The­atre build­ing in Car­bon­ear— takes place, peo­ple will able to dial 9-1-1 to get help.

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