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Creating a common framework for 9-1-1 service in Yukon

Touted as the last frontier of Canada, Yukon’s stunning landscape holds the hearts of outdoor enthusiasts. The nation’s tallest mountains, majestic rivers and biggest icefields can all be found in Yukon. Ensnared in the remoteness of the territory, those in public service have the challenge of providing better 9-1-1 service to their communities.

Scenic view of landscape and mountains against the sky in Carcross, Yukon, Canada.

The Yukon is expansive and populated by roughly 42,000 people, of which more than 80% live in the capital city, Whitehorse. It is the westernmost of Canada’s territories. The Government of Yukon is responsible for the delivery of programs and services to Yukoners and managing the territory’s land and resources in conjunction with Whitehorse, First Nations governments, and municipal and unincorporated communities.

9-1-1 was rolled out in the Yukon in 2016. The service is basic 9-1-1 (B9-1-1), where addressing and event location need to be verbally provided by the caller to the 9-1-1 call-taker. Across most of the country the 9-1-1 service is enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1). E9-1-1 provides the caller’s location to the call taker.

By 2025, another evolution of the 9-1-1 system is scheduled to take place in Canada. Next-Generation 9-1-1 or NG9-1-1 as ordered by the federal government will replace the existing 9-1-1 systems. In this regard, the Government of Yukon will be making a vast leap in its call-for-service infrastructure to meet the demands of NG9-1-1.

Understanding the landscape

What drives a 9-1-1 system to perform for the needs of citizens is accurate location information. When a call-for-service is initiated, it is critical for all parties to understand the nature of the call (police, fire or EMS), the origin of the 9-1-1 call, where the emergency is happening, which call centre (PSAP) has jurisdictional responsibility for the event, and the appropriate responders to dispatch. Similarly, the best routing for responders to arrive at the emergency location has to be based on accurate road and land data.

When Geomatics Yukon, operating under the Government of Yukon eServices Branch, investigated the feasibility of moving to NG9-1-1, several challenges rose to the surface:

  • Although the road network data from Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works meets the current specifications, it is too simplified and requires enhancement for NG9-1-1.
  • The Territory does not have a comprehensive civic address database. Whitehorse requires updating of its civic addresses as GIS points. Smaller communities and First Nations Communities also lack complete coverage.
  • Some of the PSAP services receive GIS data from third parties which means the data used by the emergency service providers may have differences.

Performing an assessment yields insights and spurs action

In the spring of 2021, a group of 40 participants from the government’s IT and GIS, emergency management, fire, community services, land management and transportation departments, together with Yukon’s telecom provider and dispatch provider, teamed up with GIS and public safety experts from Esri Canada to conduct an NG9-1-1 readiness assessment. Niki Parry, Manager at Geomatics Yukon, brought the group together.

One of the biggest benefits of having brought together all our 9-1-1 public safety stakeholders is the creation of a common framework for understanding this pending NG9-1-1 deadline and understanding exactly what that means for the Yukon,” said Niki. “What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? And what do we need to do? We answered these questions as a group.

The assessment included interviews, workshops and data assessments. The goal was to collect information to prepare an action plan to meet the new federal mandates for public safety. Part of the mandate is compliance to the NENA GIS data model. Understanding and implementing the required, strongly recommended, and recommended GIS layers and feature classes would further enable Geomatics Yukon to act as the locus for data sharing between departments, Whitehorse and other interested parties, such as the RCMP PSAP operations.

Specifically, this means moving Yukon’s road data model from the National Road Network (NRN) specifications to the NENA specifications for NG9-1-1. The Government of Yukon, Whitehorse government, and other stakeholders jointly agreed on the importance of ensuring the data supported the foundation for NG9-1-1.

The assessment on Yukon’s civic addressing spotlighted the need for a Yukon-wide civic addressing program. Identifying a data custodian within the organization will improve the integration of GIS data between the multiple sources in the territory. Better addressing will also aid in defining the PSAP boundaries and map those boundaries so there is greater clarity on the responsibilities throughout the territory.

The information management processes proved to be an important topic throughout Yukon’s NG9-1-1 assessment. The process model grounded the group in a conversation about GIS integration practices for public safety—an area that they all agreed needed significant improvement. “Before this meeting, no one really had a full understanding of GIS, data requirements and our full Yukon public safety data workflow,” said Niki. Fortunately, the group found Yukon’s ArcGIS environment to be robust and capable in supporting a system of processes and workflow.

By directing data change applications upon review and approval from stakeholders through the land management and Transportation departments, and applying GIS-based rules and processing to those applications, Yukon can ensure the data quality for its 9-1-1 service is met. Further, housing its location data in an SDI and open data repository will not only help to advocate for an enterprise approach to using data, but set Yukon on the path to better management of public safety GIS data.

Workflow showing the process of creating an action plan to meet federal mandates for public safety.

Our internal public safety team needs to work on the implementation of GIS data across the information systems if we hope to support NG911,” said Niki. “Our stage has now been set, and it’s up to us to move forward.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here