Building that houses ambulances and emergency medical services (EMS) in Carcross Yukon, on April 1, 2023.  Almost half of the homes served in the small community of 500 people do not have civic addresses. Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Yukon’s 911 service promised that civic addressing would help RCMP, paramedics and firefighters find your home in an emergency. Emergency responders are not permitted speak to the media, but some anonymously expressed what they say is widespread frustration.

That frustration may have been heard.

As of April 1, Yukon’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS), which is currently housed in the department of Community Services will join the Department of Health and Social Services. This will allow for closer collaboration between EMS and other health services are coverage in Yukon communities, according to a Yukon government news release issued March 30.

In the Yukon, a lack of surveyed home sites and dispersed unorganized communities impair an emergency response system that is dependent on a phone call being linked to an address. The current system works for people in the Yukon’s eight municipalities, but not for people residing on First Nation settlement land.

With the advent of cell phones and IP addresses, the entire emergency response system is about to be fundamentally changed across North America. The era of landline telephones and the assumption of fixed, known locations is over. This is happening, even as Yukon’s civic addressing remains incomplete and behind the times.

Esri Canada is the Canadian arm of a global corporate entity tasked with implementing the new emergency response called NG9-1-1 (Next Generation 911), and its web site is filled with information on the project.

In 2021, Esri Canada reported they helped host a workshop with 40 Yukon participants from the Yukon government’s IT and GIS groups, emergency management, fire, community services, land management and transportation departments, together with the Yukon’s telecom provider and dispatch provider. They all teamed up with GIS and public safety experts to conduct an NG9-1-1 readiness assessment for the territory.

They found the Yukon does not have a comprehensive civic address database and that Whitehorse’s addresses need to be updated as points in a geographic information system (GIS). The site also states that “smaller communities and First Nations communities also lack complete coverage.”

Civic addressing was partially accomplished in some Yukon communities during a push to have territory-wide 911 services between 2014 and 2018. Although it frustrated many rural homeowners with its odd numbering system, the maps were finalized and have not been updated since 2018, according to the Yukon government’s website on civic addresses.

A search of these civic address maps and the “find your civic address” web link shows how houses on First Nation settlement land outside of municipal boundaries are not included. This means that homes on First Nation settlement land in unincorporated communities, for example, in Beaver Creek, Pelly Crossing, Carcross or Burwash do not have address numbers, even if those settlement areas are on conventional streets or cul-de-sacs and are within the central core of those communities.

In a March 22 email, the department of Community Services wrote, “Previously, Yukon government completed civic addressing for some unincorporated communities in the Yukon for land under Yukon government’s jurisdiction.”

This phrase, “under Yukon government’s jurisdiction” left unincorporated communities with a patchwork arrangement where homes on one part of a street have house numbers, and another section of the street does not.

Community Services went on to say it will support First Nations and municipal governments to undertake civic addressing within their jurisdiction, and that both those governments hold the authority to do so.

Community Services added it will continue supporting First Nation and municipal governments to undertake civic addressing within their jurisdiction. “This is a collaborative and ongoing process, and we look forward to making progress together over the coming months.”

Community Services has the lead on implementing the new NG9-1-1 system, according to a spokesperson from Highways and Public Works. That department houses the technical expertise. The system, they say, will require working with municipalities, First Nation governments and communities to provide “their available data including digital data and paper maps.”

“Accurately locating the caller is wholly dependent on the GIS data provided by municipalities and will be crucial to NG9-1-1 success,” says Esri Canada.

The president of the Association of Yukon Communities did not know about the project. “The Association of Yukon Communities has not been consulted on the next generation 911 initiative at this point,” according to Ted Laking on March 30. He believes municipalities will need to be properly resourced and compensated to take on such a task.

This will be a challenging exercise. That 2021 assessment meeting with the 40 Yukon participants proved instructive all around.

“No one really had a full understanding of GIS, data requirements and our full Yukon public safety data workflow [before],” a Highways and Public Works manager noted, according to Esri Canada.

The readiness assessment spotlighted the need for a Yukon-wide civic addressing program. It recommended identifying a data custodian within the organization to improve the integration of GIS data between the multiple sources in the territory.

It also recommended that better addressing will assist in achieving greater clarity on responsibilities throughout the Yukon.

Joann Fox, an industry manager for Esri Canada, told the News March 30 — once “Canada moves the 9-1-1 call routing to utilize emergency maps (GIS) provided by the local authorities, in 2026 and beyond, the importance of civic addressing will be less for emergency responders, since they will be responding to the dot on the map.”

By Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 04, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Yukon News   Whitehorse, Yukon
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