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How the N.W.T.'s 911 service will handle its 11 official languages

Officials say interpreters will be available for all 11 of the N.W.T.'s official languages when someone calls 911. The service is expected to launch later this year.

Officials say interpreters will be available in the 11 official languages of the N.W.T.

An example of the patch 911 dispatchers will have on their uniforms. Five dispatchers are expected to be hired for the territory's call centre. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio Canada)

A big question when talking about implementing 911 emergency services in the Northwest Territories is how it will be offered in the territory's 11 official languages.

At a public meeting Tuesday at the Legislative Assembly, the manager of N.W.T. 911 explained the process to MLAs.

"Someone would call in to 911 and if they're not able to communicate in English, then we would pull in the language line," said Ashley Geraghty.

Ashely Geraghty is the N.W.T. 911 program manager. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio Canada)

The "language line" in this case would be one of two telephone interpretation services the territory has contracted to provide interpreters.

From there, the 911 dispatcher and the interpreter would determine what community the caller is in and what service they're looking for.

"Our intention at the moment is to transfer both the caller and the interpreter to the community [emergency] service," Geraghty said.

The interpreter is expected to bridge any communication gap between the caller and the emergency personnel on the other line.

Here's how 911 will handle callers who don't speak English:

The territory has contracted two private companies — LanguageLine Solutions and Cantalk — to provide those services. Between the two, Geraghty said N.W.T. 911 will have interpreters for the territory's 11 languages, which include English, French, Cree, Gwich'in, Inuvialuktun and other Indigenous languages.

Geraghty said it should take about 80 seconds to connect a caller to an interpreter and get both connected to local emergency services.

'How are we getting this information out to the elders?'

Eleanor Young, deputy minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, said her department is working on awareness campaigns to make people across the territory aware of the new 911 service, and how it works, before it's launched.

At Tuesday's meeting, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thomspon asked how the information would get to elders in the communities who don't speak English, and who aren't online or don't watch TV.

"Once we get this campaign up and running … we will make it a focus that our elders understand what the 911 service is," said Alfred Moses, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

911 expected to launch this year

Already existing emergency lines will continue to be active after the 911 service launches, according to Young.

"For the foreseeable future, both numbers will operate," she said.

Geraghty said the service will start later this year, but the official date is not set yet. 

"We will be announcing that to the public very shortly," he said.

N.W.T. residents can expect to see a monthly fee on their phone bills once 911 service starts. Right now the fee is expected to be $1.70, though that could change.

"When we get the final numbers when working with the telephone companies … if the fee can be lower than $1.70, of course we will pass that saving along to consumers," said Young.

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