New cellphone charge helps local 911 service

Cellphone users will have to chip in a little more for new initiatives at the Red Deer 911 call centre, including better GPS tracking and texting capabilities. An extra 44-cent monthly charge to cellphone bills is coming soon for Alberta residents.

Cellphone users will have to chip in a little more for new initiatives at the Red Deer 911 call centre, including better GPS tracking and texting capabilities.

An extra 44-cent monthly charge to cellphone bills is coming soon for Alberta residents.

It will be used to improve local 911 call centres, of which there are 22 provincewide.

Currently, there is a provincial 911 charge on land lines. But the proposed charge, which is part of Bill 15 the Emergency 911 act, will levy charges from cellphones.

Mark Boothby, Red Deer Emergency Services deputy chief, said they were told that by the first quarter of 2014, the local 911 call centre will start receiving the funds.

“We will get additional funding we can use for our primary service answering point,” said Boothby.

“We can use it for technology — we have a couple of initiatives coming down the road we’re going to need some funding for — and we can use it for staffing.”

Two of the initiatives the Red Deer 911 call centre is looking at implementing involve texting and better GPS tracking.

Boothby said people who are hard of hearing can have difficulty contacting 911.

They are hoping to implement a text service to mitigate these issues.

“People who are hard of hearing will have their class of cellphone change,” said Boothby, adding they will have to register, with a yet to be determined service.

“When it comes to 911 we’ll know it comes from someone who has a hearing difficulty and we’ll be able to initiate a 911 text message back to them.”

The improved GPS tracking ability will provide better locations from cellphones.

This initiative aimed at providing police with better information for their calls, but Boothby said all arms of emergency service may use it.

Seven cents of the fee will go to the telecommunications provider, a portion goes to the province and the remainder goes to call centres.

A base amount is given to every 911 call centre and the remainder will be distributed based on population. None of these numbers have been established yet.

Alberta Municipal Affairs Associate Minister Greg Weadick said about 70 per cent of all 911 calls come from cellphones and this bill is intended to provide better funding through people’s changing habits.

“There are significant technology changes being required across 911 now,” said Weadick.

“It’s quite expensive for the systems and a lot of the 911 call centres didn’t have the funding in place to be able to afford the new technology. This fee should allow us to help support them.”

Red Deer’s dispatch area covers about 330,000 people.

The bill also proposes fines for individuals who deliberately abuse the 911 service, but not for those who accidently pocket dial.

Boothby said he didn’t have numbers, but said there are abuses of the 911 service in Central Alberta. As well, there is better legal protection for 911 call takers, specifically protection from lawsuits related to their job, and establishing new standards, processes and procedures for call taking.

“For Red Deer it will mean a flow of capital into your 911 call centre to support the centre,” said Weadick.

“Presently it is supported by the municipality and the land line funding, but with amount being reduced, this will come in and support the centre.”

The Red Deer 911 call centre answers calls for police, fire and ambulance services in the area.

If it is a police call, it is forwarded to the RCMP and if it is a fire call, it is handled by Red Deer Emergency Services.

EMS dispatch will soon be rerouted to the Calgary dispatch centre.

The local EMS dispatch will be gone by the end of December this year.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com