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Esri Canada earns Channel Innovation Award for its NG-9-1-1 project with New Brunswick

It’s not a stretch to suggest Uber and Pizza Pizza have a better chance at finding a precise location than many first responders. The current 911 infrastructure in Canada is outdated, to the point that most responders can’t find people using cell phones, a problem considering most calls to EMS are from mobile devices.

Click here to access the Channel Innovation Awards virtual presentation on-demand

To accommodate mobile users, the CRTC is overhauling the emergency management system and developing the Next Generation 911 system. NG9-1-1 is slated to introduce a faster, more resilient system allowing voice, data, photos, videos, and text messages to flow from the public to 911. It’s a massive undertaking with a March 2022 deadline. In Canada, one of the provinces ahead of the curve, according to Esri Canada’s founder and president Alex Miller, is New Brunswick.

“New Brunswick has had some of the earliest legislation for enhanced 911 services way back in 1997 when they passed legislation that was really pioneering and created their own agency for 911 to aggregate local data from municipalities into a province-wide map,” Miller told Channel Daily News in an interview. “They have continued to extend that into the next generation of 911 which is using IP devices and mobile phones. The key to locating a mobile phone, of course, is its GPS. But GPS alone has no context. It’s just a latitude and longitude. So a mix of streets and addresses and building locations are far more important when it comes to giving emergency responders context about how to find a particular person. New Brunswick has just been a superb partner in helping us build out the real-time updates of these maps on a daily basis.

Profile photo of Diane B. Pelletier (DPS/MSP)

New Brunswick’s Diane Pelletier, director of NB911.

Diane Pelletier, the province’s director of 911 services for the department of justice and public safety says the relationship with Esri Canada dates back to the early 2000s. Over the years, as the shift to digital became more apparent, moving to digital maps greatly improved first responders’ ability to paint a picture of a community.

However, they were still rarely updated and the data format populating these maps wasn’t standardized. To ensure that a community map could be both up-to-date and easily shared, Pelletier, with the help of Esri Canada, developed the GeoFoundation Exchange (GFX). It’s a cloud-based geographic data repository platform that automates the daily collection of any data changes. An updated local digital map is available twice a week for everyone. So for example, when there’s a month-long road closure, delivery vans or ambulances looking at that map know to avoid it.

“As we developed and prototyped the new GFX tool, I saw it as a possibility for a more streamlined and efficient way of receiving the data from our service delivery agents, our municipalities, our partners,” she said.

One of those partners is the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. According to its website, the department covers six districts with 23,000 km of highways and rights of way, about 5,700 bridges and large culverts, along with about 40,000 other small culverts. The department takes calls from people reporting road concerns and tracks larger projects like culvert maintenance and vegetation management.

Pelletier says districts had different ways of recording public concerns through email or a spreadsheet. Now, they are coordinated and using the same system that flags and tracks concerns. This system is better for the public and provides the department with a much more comprehensive picture of the condition of the province’s assets along its roads and highways.