April 27, 2023

In late 2021, we began partnerships with both Grand Council Treaty #3 (GCT #3) and Nokiiwin Tribal Council to create emergency mapping resources that will support Next Generation 911 (NG911) services in their member communities. As of this spring, we will have kicked off the initiative with 28 of the 31 Ontario communities eligible to participate. With NG911 being the future of emergency services, it’s important to understand the foundational work that is required for a successful transition. So, what is 911 mapping?

Before we jump in, let’s establish how our current 911 system works! The current 911 system, which has been the standard for decades, uses the location of landline telephones for routing calls to their closest responder, or public safety answering point (PSAP). Emergency services can then be dispatched to the address registered with the telecommunications provider, and the caller can be assured that help is on the way. In 2018, the 911 system celebrated 50 years of use – but as our wireless world evolves, so must the systems that support it. The original system wasn’t built to handle calls from cell phones, and while it has adjusted to route them based on the closest cell tower, it’s just too static to deal with our increasingly interconnected world.

Enter NG911, an initiative that is evolving emergency services to be reliant on geographic information systems (GIS) data to inform digital maps showing the location of streets, buildings, landmarks, and other relevant information. These maps are being integrated with the dispatch system to provide real-time data to emergency responders, showing the caller’s location and other relevant information, such as the nearest access point. The goal of 911 mapping is to improve response times and increase the effectiveness of emergency response services as a whole. Accurate and up-to-date maps are critical for helping emergency responders arrive at the scene quickly, navigate unfamiliar areas, and provide aid to those in need.

It’s been a multi-phase process in getting GCT#3 and Nokiiwin communities onto NG911 standards. To begin, each community has an aerial survey flown by one of our drone pilots, as well as all infrastructure points gathered using GPS units. Once the data is processed, our team creates the digital maps needed for NG911, which display infrastructure data, road centerlines, lots and addressing, as well as street names – including any common aliases . It is essential that we collaborate with each community during this phase, as the addressing must fit certain standards to be considered NG911 and we want to avoid any ripple effects that come with inconsistency. How can you guarantee a pizza delivery, let alone a first responder, to your home if the addressing plan is not up to date? Once validated, the maps and datasets are shared with emergency responders, ready to be referenced if needed.

911 mapping is just one piece of these exciting projects. At the close of the project, each participating community and their supporting organizations will have a comprehensive emergency management toolkit that includes NG911 mapping, amongst other information on flooding and wildfire risks and infrastructure data within the community . We are grateful to be leading this important work that is evolving the future of 911 services!