Despite hiccups, Nunavik’s new emergency phone system is effective: police
September 15, 2023 By Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sep. 15, 2023, Nunavik, Que. – Nunavik police say the region’s new emergency phone system is working well despite some issues raised by community members.
Umiujaq became the first Nunavik community to have its police and fire calls answered by dispatchers in Saint-Eustache, Que., rather than local officers, earlier this year.
Kuujjuaraapik joined in June and Puvirnituq followed in mid-July. The rollout to Inukjuak is delayed.
The system is receiving about 110 calls per month on average, most of them between 5 p.m. and midnight, according to Shaun Longstreet, Nunavik police’s deputy chief.
He gave the update to councillors at Tuesday’s Kativik Regional Government meeting in Kuujjuaq.
Longstreet said officers in the connected communities are no longer responsible for receiving emergency calls as well as responding to them. Not having to answer calls has been a “huge advantage” that allows officers to focus on their policing duties, he said.
Deputy Chief Jean-Francois Morin agreed, saying the act of removing call-taking responsibilities allows officers to concentrate on call response.
While regional councillors agreed with the benefits of the new system, they also addressed issues community members say they’ve experienced while trying to make emergency calls.
In some cases dispatchers have made mistakes with Inuit names or have had to ask people for street names and addresses.
KRG vice-chair Lucy Kumarluk, who is from Umiujaq, said it was difficult to get an emergency response to a recent road incident in her community because residents don’t know places by their house number or address.
“People have to repeatedly make calls because maybe the first time it was not understood properly,” she said. “It’s a little bit frustrating. I mean, very frustrating.”
Longstreet said he wants councillors and community members to contact him when there are problems with the system.
“All the calls that are received at the call centre are recorded, so if you have any specific issues about specific incidents you could let us know about it, and we can ask the call centre to provide us with the calls,” he said.
“That way, if someone did something wrong, then we can fix it and we can always use that for training purposes and to improve the services.”
Morin said police have provided dispatchers a list of Nunavik last names so they can learn to better communicate information to officers.
Another issue raised at Tuesday’s meeting related to the lack of Inuit dispatchers.
Longstreet told councillors that dispatchers have access to an Inuktitut translation service that provides near-automatic translations.
He said no Inuit applied to a job posting for dispatchers but he is still looking to recruit.
“If anyone here knows of anyone that wants to work at the call centre, let us know and we can work with the City of Saint-Eustache to get them to work there, if they’re qualified,” he said.
The new system relies on Tamaani fibre optic internet, which is only connected to the four southernmost communities on Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast.
Once the fibre optic network has been rolled out in Akulivik, Ivujivik and Salluit, those communities will also be connected to the emergency dispatch centre, Longstreet said.
Nunavik police hope to get all 14 villages connected to the network directly, however, the infrastructure is years from being completed.
Longstreet said that in the interim, they will test different available internet technologies on the Ungava side to see if it’s possible to get some Ungava communities connected.
“So we will test the low earth orbit internet to see if it is possible,” he said.
“We just want to make sure that we’re not putting ourselves in a situation where the technology is not good enough and that we’re dropping calls or anything like that.”
– Nunatsiaq News
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