The result of the new shift should allow the 911 system to pinpoint the location of callers to within centimetres
TORONTO — Emergency services will have to soon 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.
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
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.
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.
Canadians could eventually stream video from an emergency incident
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.
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Mary Jane Clinkard suffers from a neuromuscular disability that requires her to exercise to maintain her strength, but with municipal pools under lockdown since Boxing Day, she hasn’t been able to do that.
Now her muscles feel weak, stiff and painful, and her independence is in jeopardy. The 50-year-old fears she’ll need a personal support worker to get in and out of her wheelchair if she can’t get back into the water soon.
Clinkard, who has hypotonia, told CBC’s Ottawa Morning it’s especially disheartening when she hears others talking about the activities they’re able to do during the lockdown.
“I get really, really frustrated when I hear, ‘We all go skating or go skiing,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I can’t do either of those,'” Clinkard said.
Once the pools reopened in July, it took Clinkard months of swimming three times a week to get back into shape. Then Ontario entered another lockdown.
The Sandy Hill woman would like to see swimming pools deemed essential, and said she’s not the only one who depends on them for her health.
“There are other people who cannot walk, who cannot ski, cannot skate,” she said.
According to Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, the provincial restrictions currently in place don’t allow exemptions for people wishing to use indoor municipal facilities for physical therapy or rehabilitation.
“Provincial authorities have been made aware of the request for an exemption for […] these services and the City will be monitoring the revised regulations for any changes,” Chenier said in an emailed statement.
When am I going to be back in the water? When am I going to be able to swim again?– Mary Jane Clinkard
According to the office of Sylvia Jones, Ontario’s solicitor general, the second wave of COVID-19 poses a serious threat to the province’s most vulnerable.
“The single most important thing Ontarians can do right now to protect our most vulnerable is to stay at home,” wrote Stephen Warner, Jones’s press secretary and issues manager. “As we continue our vaccine rollout, this is our best defense against this virus.”
According to Warner, municipalities don’t have the power to ease restrictions put in place under the province’s lockdown.
Restrictions ‘frustrating and difficult’
Under the stay-at-home order, only “exercising, including walking or moving around outdoors using an assistive mobility device, or using an outdoor recreational amenity” are allowed.
Coun. Matt Luloff, who represents Orléans and sits on the city’s community and protective services committee, called that lack of flexibility “frustrating and difficult.”
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On Monday, Luloff told Ottawa Morning if exemptions can be made for NHL players, then people who rely on certain facilities for their health and well-being should be granted similar leeway.
“We can say to one group of people that it’s fine to … bubble and to provide entertainment for us,” he told Ottawa Morning on Monday. “But when there’s a real need, a real physical [or] mental health need, that’s just not as important as getting to see the Sens play.”
“Maybe if the city doesn’t feel comfortable opening people pools for everybody, they can open one pool for people who really need it,” Clinkard suggested. “When am I going to be back in the water? When am I going to be able to swim again?”
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