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Kevin O'Brien says possible changes to the 911 system will likely 'not be a quick process.' ((CBC))

The Newfoundland and Labrador government made a leap on Friday toward a long-awaited emergency response program that would cover rural areas of the province.

The government issued a request for proposals on the feasibility of expanding the 911 system and creating a pilot of what's called Enhanced 911, or E-911.

Many community leaders have long been critical of the existing 911 system, which is not available widely outside of the largest communities.

Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O'Brien, who is also responsible for fire and emergency services, cautioned that changes to 911 will not come rapidly.

"There are many complexities associated with moving forward with establishing expanded access, such as a lack of civic addressing, the large geographical expanse of the province and the differing levels of emergency response depending on proximity to police, ambulance and fire departments," O'Brien said in a statement.

"However, the issue warrants an appropriate plan and a proper costing so that both government and residents understand the actions needed to advance this initiative."

Enhanced 911 allows an emergency operator to get a physical address from a phone number as soon as the call is received.

"It's been demonstrated in other jurisdictions that this will not be a quick process and it requires appropriate attention by qualified and knowledgeable individuals," O'Brien said.