Fire Fighting in Canada

NG 911 is a game changer

October 30, 2019 
By Sue Dawson

We have talked about the changes coming with Next Generation (NG) 911. If you haven’t had a chance to look at NFPA 1221 standard for the installation, maintenance, and use of emergency services communications systems, 2019 edition, you might want to check it out.

Call processing time is defined as the time from call answer to initial notification of the responding emergency response units. Emergency alarm processing now looks at the timing for the highest prioritization level of emergencies, including medical events such as trauma, cardiac-related events and patients not breathing to name a few.

Also, the following types of calls where significant property loss/damage is likely or actively occurring will be included in the highest prioritization level:

  • Fire involving or potentially extending to a structure(s)
  • Explosion
  • Other calls as determined by the AHJ

Now come the exemptions. As before, they have included hazardous materials incidents and technical rescue events. But the 2019 edition goes on to say the following types of mitigating circumstances shall be exempted from the requirements:

  • Language translation
  • Incomplete location
  • SMS message to 911
  • Calls received from outside the normal area of responsibility and or service area
  • Calls requiring use of a PSAP registry or similar tool to determine the appropriate PSAP and/or transfer location
  • Calls received during a significant disaster that severely and significantly deplete available resources, impact local infrastructure, and could result in changes to normal dispatcher procedures (disaster mode)

Section 7.4.15 lists standard operating procedures that shall be included within your communications centre. The change here relating to NG 911 is the inclusion for procedures for handling non-voice events.

Each authority having jurisdiction should be looking at what they consider being the highest prioritization level of emergency events. Consider what your updated operating guidelines will look like going forward and consider the upcoming changes when text to 911 becomes a reality. What guidelines and procedures will you need to cover these non-voice events?

You will have to consider your current quality assurance programs. Do you refer to any NFPA standards in your program? We use it for one of our key performance indicators for our statistics. As a provider of dispatching service, we also use it as a benchmark that we report to our customers. With all the changes and exemptions in the 2019 edition, we will have to review our measurement tools and make some adjustments.

911 is changing and I believe Canada is doing a good job at trying to make this change a more consistent roll-out for our customers who dial 911.

There are roadmaps available and we are all waiting to hear results of the trials that are taking place. It will be an interesting time going forward – one with many more questions and not a ton of firm answers or solutions. Yet, sticking with the NENA i3 standard seems to be a consistent message. A new version is out for comment as we speak.

Budgeting for all of this technology with so many moving pieces is difficult.

Another consideration are the discussions taking place on Public Broadband Networks (PSBN) and what they will bring to NG 911. Remembering that there are many facets to NG 911 is the key, the (PSBN) should not be confused as a tool that will assist the process from when the caller dials 911, until it reaches a primary and secondary answering point at a dispatching centre. Continue to follow the great work being done by the Emergency Services Working Group to stay informed from a primary and secondary PSAP perspective.

Sue Dawson has been with Barrie Fire and Emergency Service in Ontario in the communications field for more than 30 years. She is the deputy chief of communications and business services. Contact Sue at

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