Author | Photo of midnight light in the North courtesy of Laura's instagram

Dealing with An Emergency When You Live in the Northern Territories

Last week, Lisa wrote a piece sharing some tips on calling 911. After the piece went live, we got an email from Laura, one of our writers who lives and works in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Since most of the North doesn’t have 911 service, dealing with an emergency there is a very different ballgame. While Laura loves to share all the great things about living in the area with our readers, she also sheds light on some of the challenges. Here, she tells us what it’s like to deal with a crisis when you can’t call 911.

If you call 911 in most of the North, you get an automated message from a bored-sounding man, saying, “There are no 911 services in this area. Please hang up and dial the emergency number for your area, or hang up and dial zero to reach an operator.” There is no 911 service in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories. In the Yukon, only the capital city Whitehorse has the service. You’re SOL if you live anywhere else.

The lack of service is particularly frustrating given the crime rates in all three territories. Statistics Canada says that in 2011, the rate of violence against women in the Yukon was four times the national average. It was nine times the national average in the Northwest Territories, and a whopping 13 times the national average in Nunavut.

 So what do you do in an emergency? Dial a seven-digit local number for fire, medical or RCMP help. Hope you have a good memory!

The issue of 911 service has been contentious over the past few years. Bell Mobility just lost a major class-action lawsuit for charging a monthly 75-cent fee for the service, no matter where the customer lives. After years in court, a judge ruled against Bell last week.

While the trial was going on, a director at Bell who grew up in Yellowknife said everyone knows the emergency numbers. He also said phone retailers are required to tell new customers about the lack of 911 service.

On the first point, this may be true for people who grew up in the North, but the region has a huge transient population of people who are not from here (including myself).

On the second point, I bought a phone in Yellowknife and there was no mention of the lack of service. It wasn’t until I was in an actual emergency situation that I found that out.

 I had only been in Yellowknife for about six months. I was outside in -30. I fumbled frantically with my phone, and dialed 911, only to get that frustrating message. I didn’t know the emergency numbers, so I called my friend who grew up in Yellowknife. She gave me the number for the RCMP, but even she had to think for a moment. It probably only took a few minutes in total, but for me, those minutes passed in slow motion.

It’s up to municipal governments to provide the service, but they have long lists of needs, and never enough money. It’s unlikely the service will be available in the North anytime soon.

I suggest finding out the emergency police, fire and ambulance numbers in your community, and plug them into your phone under easy names to remember in a hurry.

Editor’s Note: Even those of us lucky enough to live somewhere with 911 service should take Laura’s tip about plugging non-Emergency aid numbers into our phone. That magnet they gave me in grade school with the phone number for my police division is long-gone, and doesn’t even apply to the city I live in anymore, anyway. Be prepared!

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    1 Comment

    1. Jessica Wiemann
      May 27, 2013

      i bought my first cellphone when i moved to yellowknife in 2006 (from bell, the only service provider in town at the time), and i paid my 911 fee and was never once told that there was no 911 service. it wasn’t until i started working at an assisted living home that i learned about the emergency numbers + lack of 911 service. just one of the many reasons i’m glad i’ve been in toronto for 5 years now.

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