9-1-1 is not always one phone call away


During a tragic situation along the St. Lawrence River near Cardinal that claimed the life of a diver, those on hand trying to help encountered difficulties with reaching the proper emergency services.

While some locals may be aware that occasionally their mobile phone calls are picked up by powerful towers on the American side of the border, those who do not live here, especially tourists enjoying the river, may not be aware of the issue.

Generally, the result is being billed for expensive and unexpected roaming charges, but in an emergency situation the impact is much greater.

“We rely on 911 for help in an emergency and we pay for it on our phone bills, but in reality, when we are near the St. Lawrence River, in some places the only reliable access to 911 is a land line,” noted Hugh Hamilton of South Mountain.

Hamilton, after the recent diving accident at Cardinal, has been doing what he can to make as many people, including local politicians aware of this serious and important issue.

“Because of this anomaly, and three 911 calls later, we did not get timely assistance for a diver who died on Tuesday April 23,” he said. “In the middle of an emergency, when you get an operator that doesn’t know where Cardinal, Ontario is, does it occur to you that you have reached American 911? No. You are too busy doing CPR.”

“When Canadian 911 got the message, they were excellent and efficient … but it was that horrible gap between sending three calls out, and Canadian emergency services receiving the calls. This is a major concern.”

Hamilton implores everyone to take action and do something to raise awareness of this issue so that something will be done to fix this serious problem.

“Let the powers be know you want the safety net you are paying for,” said Hamilton, who encourages constituents of Leeds and Grenville and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry to contact their MPPs, Steve Clark and Jim McDonell. He also suggests phoning your movbile phone provider to let them know, no matter what, a 911 call made in Canada must reach Canada.”

Jacqueline Michelis, Bell spokesperson, confirmed that wireless calls are routed through the nearest cell site with the strongest signal. 

“On the border, Canadian calls will occasionally be picked up by a U.S. cell site (and vice versa) but it is a rare situation, and all wireless carriers on both sides of the border configure their sites to reduce this possibility,” she said.

However, this possibility can increase when calls are made from the river.

According to the Bell spokesperson, Public Safety Awareness Points handle all 911 calls.

“Border municipalities can establish agreements with nearby U.S.-based PSAPs to transfer 911 calls if this situation occurs,” she said.

“This is a serious issue,” said Michael Jiggins, executive assistant to MPP Steve Clark. 

“We are now working with industry experts to see if there is something we can do to resolve the problem. Mr. Clark recognizes this concern and is taking it very seriously,” he added. 

According to Jiggins, Clark has been in contact with Jim McDonell’s office regarding upcoming meetings where they plan to get together with experts who know how to come up with a solution.

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