Markers to help pinpoint location for emergency calls

 Public Safety Communications, the City of Calgary’s 911 centre, has launched a pilot program designed to help locate users of the city’s pathway system in the event that an emergency call is made.

Nina Vaughan, commander of Public Safety Communications, says the aim of the pilot project is to help emergency personal respond more quickly when medical and other emergencies occur along Calgary’s pathways.

“Since Calgary has more than 700 kilometers of pathways, it’s not always easy to articulate where you are on our extensive pathway network when you need help,” Vaughn says.

Touted as the first of its kind in Canada, the pilot project involves 175 markers placed along 200 km of pathways. Markers have been placed along the Bow River and Elbow River pathways, as well as in Fish Creek Park.

“We picked high traffic areas that had a variety of different users and that are traditionally areas where we haven’t had very good cell reception,” Vaughan says.

Placed approximately one km apart, each marker has a unique code – a combination of two letters and four numbers. The letters identify the exact pathway, while the numbers identify a particular location along the path. In the event of an emergency, callers can provide the location code to 911 operators.

Calgary Fire Department deputy chief of operations and technical teams, Len MacCharles, calls the markers “another key component” of public safety in Calgary.

“These signs, placed where they are will help individuals identify where they are so emergency responders — police, EMS, fire, whatever is needed at that time — can figure out exactly where you are and provide service in a quick and efficient manner,” MacCharles says. Members of the Calgary Police Service Mountain Bike Unit helped officially launch the pathway marker program.

Photo by: Karry Taylor

Vaughan says the signs help address the fact that it can often be very difficult to pinpoint a location when a 911 call is made from a cell phone.

“There is a bit of a misconception because of what people see on TV,” Vaughn says. “They think that when they call 911 on their cell phone, we can pinpoint exactly what their location is. That is not the case.”

“We do get coordinates from the cell phone call, but they are not accurate or specific enough in an urban environment for us to be able to determine where people are.”

Adam Loria, Calgary EMS spokesperson, says that the markers will be particularly helpful in the case of more quickly assisting visitors to the city who may experience an emergency while using city pathways.

“They go for a walk and, unfortunately, if a medical condition does happen they just don’t know where they are,” Loria says.

“If that 911 call can be made and one of these signs can be visualized, hopefully that will decrease the EMS to patient time.”

In order to reduce the costs of the pilot project, the markers were placed on existing sign posts. Vaughan says it remains to be seen if the current one km distance between markers will be effective.

“Part of the pilot project will be to determine if they are far enough apart, if they need to be closer together and how many we need,” Vaughan says.