In this March 15, 2018, file photo, a supervisor shows one of the maps used by dispatchers at a 911 call center in Roswell, Ga. Emergency services will soon have to ensure they can pinpoint the location of people calling 911 for help on their cellphones. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Lisa Marie Pane

Internet-based 911 calling on the horizon for Canada; aim is to enhance response

NG9-1-1 aims to get around the problems by shifting to a new internet-based system

Emergency services will soon have to ensure they can pinpoint the location of people calling 911 for help on their cellphones.

The technically complex shift mandated by Canada’s telecommunications regulator to what’s called Next-generation 9-1-1 — or NG9-1-1 — should allow for a faster, more accurate system in which eventually data, photos, videos and text messages can flow.

“People mistakenly assume that when using a cellphone they’ll automatically know where you are because of GPS capabilities inherent in that type of device,” says Alex Brossault, a data program manager with the city of Guelph, Ont. “The truth of the matter is that it’s not exactly pinpoint.”

Currently, 911 dispatchers ask callers where they are. Landlines are tied to a physical address, while for cellphones, a process known as triangulation of cell towers can approximate a caller’s location to the nearest known road intersection.

Problems can arise if cellphone callers don’t know where they are, or are unable to speak or hear. Dispatchers might only know a caller’s location within a couple of hundred metres, which can hinder response times.

NG9-1-1 aims to get around the problems by shifting to a new internet-based system. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ordered the new system in place for voice calls by June 2020 and for texts by December 2020.

Essentially, every connected phone will have an internet protocol address, which will be cross-referenced with key data sets mostly supplied by municipalities. The database will comprise every street address in an area and the entry location of buildings. Emergency service boundaries will also be accessible to ensure the right responders are dispatched.

The result should allow the 911 system to pinpoint the location of callers to within centimetres.

“We’re getting down to the metre, sub-metre accuracy,” Brossault said.

Currently, people who are deaf or have a speech impediment can text 911 services from a cellphone, but they have to register in advance, connect with 911 by voice call, then text. The general public cannot use texts for emergency services. That, too, will be changing in the coming year, with text becoming available to everyone with a smart phone.

Once fully implemented, NG9-1-1 will go well beyond talking or texting.

“Canadians could eventually stream video from an emergency incident, send photos of accident damage or a fleeing suspect, and send personal medical information, including accessibility needs, which could greatly aid emergency responders,” the CRTC says.

READ MORE: 74% of 911 calls are from cellphones, so know your location: E-Comm

New Brunswick, among provincial leaders when it comes to implementing the new 911 technology, has come up with a civic address system that has improved support for current 911 operations and paved the way for Next-generation 9-1-1 services.

Diane Pelletier, director of New Brunswick’s NB 911 Bureau, said the goal in any emergency is to get the right assets to the right location fast. New processes and tools were improving road data exchange with the province’s three most populous cities, and more municipalities were expected to get on board within months, she said.

“We can give our emergency service partners like police, firefighters and paramedics even more up-to-date information about the road network to help them get to the caller as quickly as possible,” Pelletier said.

Overall, the regulator says, the move from analog systems to IP-based systems should improve the ability of emergency responders to deal with call overload situations, natural disasters and improve responses.

In addition, the technology could eventually allow people to make 911 calls from instant messaging apps or even Facebook. The system could also manipulate GPS data say from a car’s navigation system to allow dispatchers to find someone who has crashed.

The CRTC wants the current 911 system to be fully retired by 2023.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Canadian seniors isolated with fewer friends, less access to internet

Findings appear in assessment of health and social challenges associated with COVID-19

Mustard Seed Coffee Company launches online ordering, free delivery

Program proceeds assist Greater Victoria residents in need

Current Taxi offers free rides for healthcare workers to or from hospitals

Rides must stay within 20 km of Victoria General or Royal Jubilee Hospital

Oak Bay permits recreation vehicles in driveways during COVID-19

Council lifts restriction on campers as a place to self-isolate

Vikes Maffia, Mollenhauer among annual athletic award winners

UVic Vikes release annual athletic awards

COLUMN: The other graph that shows B.C. can beat COVID-19

Is the curve being flattened? data on hospitalizations provides a crucial answer.

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

75-year-old woman rescued from Cowichan Lake

Victim taken to hospital, but expected to recover

Not to become bored the game plan for COVID-19

Board game with an Island map developed by Island family just the remedy for filling time at home

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

Most Read