The territory’s long-awaited 9-1-1 service is officially live. Those in the room for the service’s opening moments in the NWT, decades in the making, described the “exciting and surreal” feeling of the number coming to life.
Newly hired dispatchers were joined by technicians, response staff, managers, and experts in a crowded room for the launch at 8am on Monday. The precise location of the dispatch centre is not being made public.
“We didn’t have a call for the first 45 minutes – which is great, by the way,” program manager Ashley Geraghty told Cabin Radio in an interview two hours into 9-1-1’s NWT existence. “We really don’t want anyone to have to call 9-1-1 because that means they’re having a really bad day.”
Geraghty acknowledged dispatchers coming in for their first shifts throughout the day would be anxious as they took their opening calls, but added there was excitement for those who had worked on the program – and for whom this day had been a long time coming.
“I was very excited and happy for the territory,” he said. “Of course, I had some anxiety around call volume and staffing. So there is anxiety and excitement.
“I teared up a little bit because it’s been, personally… there’s a lot of sacrifice that went into getting us here on this time. Even on the personal side.
“And now we’re live and it’s kind-of surreal for me. Wow, here we are.”
A large number of people have called to test the system despite being warned not to do so, Geraghty said. He understood people may wonder whether they are able to get through to the new service, but urged them not to try “test calls.”
“It takes time away from the real calls,” he said.
In particular, people are asked not to place a test call but then hang up immediately. When that happens, dispatchers are obliged to try to find out whether the call was a test or a real emergency.
If no number shows up on their display, that means dispatchers must work with cellphone service providers to establish who called.
“So if you’re going to call test, or you’re just going to call 9-1-1 and you’re not sure you’re having an emergency, please do not hang up,” Geraghty urged.
People with cellphone numbers from outside the territory should be routed by the local cell tower back to the territory’s service, Geraghty said, adding “quite a lot” of testing was done to ensure this happened.
If people are mistakenly routed to other 9-1-1 services, those dispatchers will be able to route calls back to the NWT’s 9-1-1 centre.
Two genuine emergency calls – a medical call and another related to suicide – were received on Monday morning and transferred to appropriate agencies, Geraghty said. While the time taken to transfer calls was a concern for some Yellowknife city councillors during a briefing on 9-1-1 last week, Geraghty said transferring each of those first calls “went very well.”
The number of calls so far is as expected, with most calls coming from the Yellowknife area. The service is expecting around 78 calls per day, though that number can vary significantly depending on any given day’s events.
If you are used to the NWT’s old emergency numbers – which ordinarily end -1111 for police or -2222 for fire and ambulance – you are still able to call them. “If you’re having an emergency, get service any way you can,” said Geraghty.