The NWT’s fledgling 9-1-1 service came in slightly over budget in its first financial year and was averaging around 1,000 calls per month.
The figures are contained in the service’s first annual report, filed in the legislature this week. As the service only began in November 2019, the report covers the five-month period to the end of March 2020.
Until November 4 last year, NWT residents had to dial local numbers for police, fire, or medical assistance. Dialling 9-1-1 either did not connect or returned an automated message instructing people to try other numbers instead.
The new system cost $1.7 million to build and run in its opening months, the report states – around $250,000 more than its budget of $1.45 million.
The territorial government spent $340,000 on computer hardware and software that did not appear in its budget, but saved some money on staffing as only five out of seven full-time positions were initially filled.
From November 4, 2019 until March 31, 2020, there were 6,322 calls to 9-1-1. (That figure is significantly lower than estimates provided by ministers earlier this year.)
More than a quarter – 1,891 calls – were not emergencies, with many being residents phoning simply to test that the system worked.
By March, just over 1,000 emergency calls per month were being received.
The vast majority of calls were from people seeking help from RCMP (3,632 calls), followed by medical help (672 calls) and firefighting (127 calls).
By the end of March, 15 people had called 9-1-1 for help with symptoms of Covid-19.
Of the 6,322 calls received, all but seven were in the English language. Five were in French and two were in Cantonese, with none in Indigenous languages. (Interpreters are available, the territorial government says.)
Meanwhile, slightly fewer people than expected are paying the monthly fee of $1.70 associated with 9-1-1.
The fee appears automatically in your phone bill. The territorial government says it turns out there are fewer subscribers than planned, so revenue was down slightly on expectations at $397,300 for the five months. (Over the course of a full year, that would equate to about $70,000 less than the GNWT was anticipating.)
Though the territory now has 9-1-1, the service available is still the simplest version available. For example, you must state your phone number and location as the service has no means of figuring those details out for itself.
Newer forms of 9-1-1 can acquire that information and more without dispatchers having to ask the person calling.
The territorial government says telecoms regulator the CRTC has asked the GNWT to start planning the introduction of a more advanced 9-1-1 system.
That upgrade is forecast to be in place by 2025, the report states.