Julie Millson from York Region joined Esri Canada on a webinar that focused on Canada’s next-generation 9-1-1 transition. Julie shared the lessons learned by York Region as they engaged with their stakeholders to understand and align on the work required. This blog post is a transcript of the presentation.
Our journey really started to ramp up in 2021 when we had the NG9-1-1 Readiness Assessment completed. This took advantage of our existing relationships that we built through our YorkInfo Partnership. This is a partnership with our local municipalities, school boards, conservation authorities, etc.
After engaging with over 50 stakeholders, it was confirmed what we thought to be true—that we had the data that we needed, at least the mandatory elements, and the necessary tools (Esri, FME, etc.) to get the job done. But it also highlighted where we were most weak. Did we have a clear process, were all of our stakeholders fully engaged, did we have the proper troubleshooting protocols in place? The document really became a key communication tool for us that we could share with any of our stakeholders. And it also became a valuable reference material as staff changed different departments and different organizations.
We soon realized just how complex our stakeholder network was. Here at York Region, we're a two-tiered government system. Regional municipalities are tasked with the provision and support of emergency response services (Police, Fire, EMS), while local municipalities are the authoritative source of road and address information—key components required to support these services.
We have nine local municipalities which are serviced by a single police force, one EMS and three fire services groups. We're a landlocked region and we have four surrounding regional municipalities that we must coordinate with as well. And then on top of that don't forget all of those stakeholders that are within each of those organizations. They could be in planning, building, legal, clerks, GIS and data departments.
For us, the project since the 2021 kick-off has really focused on three key components up to now:
- Formalizing agreements
- Expanding and transferring knowledge
- Establishing processes
But with that said, our team has been focused more on the data side, while others within the organization and outside of the organization have been focused on call taking, dispatch, network security, phone hardware, etc.
Throughout it all there's been a strong emphasis on building and maintaining relationships. The first one is formalizing agreements, like the Bell agreement. There's a lot of confusion around this, such as who has been getting the agreement, who's supposed to sign the agreement, does it cover data and technology, how is this all going to work and what does it really mean?
It became really clear that we were going to need memorandums of understanding to formalize all of these different relationships and responsibilities that had been functioning at a handshake level. Now we really required that clear accountability. Currently we're up to close to 20 agreements related to 9-1-1 across all of the different functions. So if you have not engaged your legal group yet, you should become their friends. They need to be involved.
The discussions around the agreements start to ensure that there's a recognition of NG9-1-1 as a crucial initiative for all parties involved. It's also establishing that commitment at the highest level which then makes it easier to adjust the resourcing needs and timing at those functioning levels.
Throughout it all, the focus we've really emphasized is what is best for our shared resident? So regardless of who used to do it or who should do it, what is the best way to ensure that our residents get the service that they need and require.
As we said there's still a lot of confusion around the requirements, timing and processes of 9-1-1. Formally, my team and others that were involved are stakeholders. We've been attending working groups and conferences whenever possible simply to understand where we are in respect to others, and what can we learn from others. Really, you just can't learn enough. Every time you open a new door, you learn something new and you figure out opportunities to share.
Once we do learn we're also focused on sharing it as quickly and widely as possible. We've done several presentations whenever we're asked to any of our local municipalities within our organization. We want to talk to those stakeholders. We want to understand their processes and priorities. That's part of our what we call our Continuous Discovery initiative. And help identify where there may be alignments and benefits.
As I said before it's not just your data people. We've been giving presentations to our legal and risk team and we've been working alongside our police who've been implementing their new call taking system. That really brought to light a lot of things that maybe we hadn't seen from the GIS perspective: what is required, what are those things that are happening ahead of time, prior to getting to data being the center of the radar.
This dialogue is building and strengthening relationships and it's really helping us understand how we can help others balance those priorities. The third part is establishing processes. We are relying on documents like the NENA standard to figure out what those best practices are. We have been fortunate in that with our local municipalities we have been sharing data through our YorkInfo Partnership. We have a data co-op that's built off ArcGIS Online, so we already had some of those things in place, but we really hadn't got to the point of figuring out what are those other different processes that will need to be defined and established over the next year or so, or next few years and where should we start.
We decided we wanted to start on things that are basically within a staff level control and isn't necessarily dependent on any of those agreements being signed. Addressing and address points were a good starting focus. They didn't involve shared geometries. A point versus working on polygons or shared road lines was going to be a lot more complex. It was also an area poised for the greatest change (those notifications going from tabular to spatial), but it also weaved into business processes that we could see a benefit from alignment. If you think about address notifications, some people were already doing them in CAD. So maybe it was just a change of from CAD to GIS to ensure that we're ready to get there.
If you think about address notification, you can also think about the dreaded 72-hour that everyone's concerned about. What we realized is if we were starting to put things in at a proposed stage, we were actually well ahead of that 72-hours. We also discovered some duplication in effort between and within organizations. From an editing perspective we're actually investigating a slightly different approach. We're looking into editing collaboratively with our local municipal partners to minimize the integration efforts and quality checks that would be required to weave those multiple sources together. So the regional municipality is sort of taking on that mini aggregator role and we're investigating the Address Manager tool as a possibility for that collaborative editing.
From the business benefit perspective, we could share the data openly for access and use by other interested parties like the utilities, Canada Post, MPAC, school boards. If people's effort is put into creating the address point rather than sending out the notifications, could we balance off that additional time one way and save some time somewhere else. We're looking at aligning technology upgrades—many of us are moving to ArcGIS Pro. If you're going to change tools or change data models, now would be the time.
When we started talking about processes one of the things that we realized is we really needed to go a second round after the Readiness Assessment. We needed to go back to a number of the people and dive deeper into specific things to make sure we really understood how are they capturing any of the information right now.
We kept stumbling across this same pain point that each one of our municipalities was having. It was road naming and address numbering. It was amazing to see the variety of challenges that currently exist and how many continue to be introduced. In some cases, it's a lack of awareness of the potential emergency response implications of approving some unusual addressing situations. In other cases it was a need for a stronger policy; something that they could say, “Hey, this is why we're doing it.” So if the policy referred to NENA standards or why they were doing it, it sort of made it easier to go back to the address requestor and say we don't want to have that name because it's too similar to something else. We've got a number of these different examples.
I can't believe some of the ones we've seen: 90-degree angle changes for a road name. Addressing versus where you actually access it. Out of number sequencing: one, three, five, six, eight. And you're thinking it doesn't make any sense for somebody in an emergency context. At the same time we're putting all of those examples together and we're creating an educational component that we will be sharing those implications of the examples to help others understand the seriousness of the context.
Although there's been a lot of talk around the technologies involved in NG9-1-1, I think we all understand and believe how crucial data will be. I like to think of it this way. Everything that's being worked on relating to technology: the network, call taking, dispatch, security, etc., is building one fine car. But that fine car isn't going anywhere if the fuel isn't there to support it. So whether it's from the agreements, to creation and editing, quality checks, sharing and delivery to stakeholders, issue reporting…they are all crucial for the best data possible.
When I was asked what I could share from lessons learned, I took a moment to reflect and I came up with the ones you see here on the screen. You've got to just get started. Don't be afraid to do a quick cursory overview and then dive into the individual components in more detail as time and momentum dictates.
You need some sort of project management. This is a major project with a variety of stakeholders. You need some sort of governance structure that will bring those pieces together. It’s going to be a journey so you've got to be prepared to be agile. Move when and where the traction is. Every building block counts so even if you aren't doing it in the order that you had on your initial project plan a progress is a win. And noting that you're not going to have the skills that you need. You need experts in all areas: legal, technology, dispatch, operations, policy, data. You need them to bring their superpowers to the table.
Find alignments with other projects and initiatives. There's a lot of changes happening within the planning world right now within Ontario and so we've been focused on the tie points between the planning process, building permits and addressing. An interest that benefits more than one initiative will help you with building your buy-in.
I put ‘stay calm’ but I know it's easier said than done. But most importantly are those relationships. You have to make them, strengthen them and call on them at every level and all levels. I mean we've already seen this within our GIS community where we've been banding together for a few years now, understanding what those implications of those geospatial data requirements of 9-1-1 will be, but we need to still continue to develop them further out. So our next steps will continue to focus on those initiatives that we mentioned. It's also going to focus on more targeted working groups using members from all of our local municipalities.
Another is collaborating with our neighbors. We haven't got to that point of necessarily talking about the alignment efforts between each of them. Durham and ourselves, we went through a major re-jig of one of our main shared roads but we still have three more neighbours to work with so it's going to take a while. Along the way we're going to continue to do what we've done so far. We've tried to have fun. We've tried to celebrate any movement forward. After all, a small step can still be a step in the right direction and it can be the beginning of your momentum.
To watch the recorded webinar in its entirety, visit this link. For any questions related to your municipality’s journey to becoming ready for NG9-1-1, or to request more information on the NG9-1-1 GIS Readiness Assessment, please email email@example.com.