Emergency Communications

Res #: 8-04M
Number: 8
Year: 2004
Midterm: Yes
Expired: Yes
Responses Received: No
Departments: SaskTel

Resolution No. 8-04M

WHEREAS, the Provincial Government implemented a provincial wide 911 emergency number for fire calls; and

WHEREAS, the Provincial Government established provincial 911 Public Service Answering Points (PSAP) dispatch centres, an emergency service telecommunications program to develop an area wide communications system that would assist in the dispatch and communications capability of fire responders; and

WHEREAS, two million dollars was provided by the provincial government over a four year period, to municipalities to assist with 75% of the costs to purchase radio and paging systems to allow fire personnel to interact with other response agencies that they may be working with and to remain in contact with their respective dispatch agency; and

WHEREAS, these funds did not provide the necessary funds for a comprehensive over haul of emergency communications, so municipalities took the initiative to upgrade their communications systems, at significant costs; and

WHEREAS, the main system implemented was the Fleetnet System, which had its flaws, but over all worked effectively for the PSAP’s to communicate with municipal fire departments; and

WHEREAS, SaskTel has informed municipalities that the Fleetnet System will be discontinued on December 1, 2006, with no alternate communication system available to replace it; and

WHEREAS, SaskTel’s option of cellular service such as push-to-talk is not a solution as several areas of the province have poor or no cellular coverage;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that SARM lobby the Provincial Government to ensure that the Fleetnet System remains operational until such time as an alternate system that works effectively province wide is available, and when such a system is available that adequate time and funding is provided to municipalities to convert their systems.

Response from Honourable Maynard Soontag, Minister Resposible for SaskTel:

I want to assure you that neither government nor SaskTel has any interest of intention of leaving emergency service providers in Saskatchewan without safe, reliable emergency communications services. We will ensure communications services for emergency service providers will be maintained through any trasition from FleetNet 800 to any new, viable service that might replace FleetNet 800. SaskTel Mobility recognizes the value FleetNet 800 service provides in Saskatchewan, especially for emergency response communications. That is why they fully examined all of their options before considering turning down the network and will continue to examine options as new technology becomes available.

Over the past few years, SaskTel Mobility has been working with their supplier, as well as looking at other options for continuing FleetNet 800 service. Unfortunately, since the FleetNet 800 network is aging, it may not work reliably in the future. There are a number of potential alternatives to replace FleetNet 800 service. SaskTel Mobility already offers options for some users, such as cellular service or text messaging service on our expanding digital network. In addition, SaskTel is examining an emerging technology, called push-to-talk, which allows people to use their cellular phone much like a walkie-talkie and would operate on the 1xRTT network.

Push-to-talk, expected to be available in 2005, offers similar functionality and many of the same benefits as FleetNet 800 service. SaskTel recognizes there is a difference in coverage between the FleetNet 800 network and the cellular/1xRTT Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network and appreciates your concerns in this regard. As such, since announcing the anticipated turndown of the FleetNet 800 network, SaskTel has begun to taked existing FleetNet 800 coverage and the amount of traffic on FleetNet 800 sites into consideration when planning expansion on the cellular network.

Technology differences make it impossible to map these coverage improvements directly to the current FleetNet 800 coverage in all areas. They are currently in the process of creating a detailed plan to expand and improve the cellular network and will be announcing the details early in 2005. Satellite service, which offers extensive coverage, is also available as an alternative to FleetNet 800 service. Although we are confident these solutions are viable alternatives for many FleetNet 800 customers, we are aware they may not meet the functionality needs of all users.

Please note that push-to-talk functionality is not yet well-enough developed to determine with certainly whether it will meet all dispatch needs by the end of 2006. SaskTel Mobility is committed to providing exceptional wireless service to the people of our province and will continue to keep abreast of functionality enhancements to CDMA technology which may address the needs of FleetNet 800 customers. As well, a working group comprised of representatives from SaskTel Mobility, SaskPower, Sask911, the RCMP, and the Department of Justice, Health, Environment, Corrections and Public Safety, and Highways and Transportation has been formed to examine alternatives to the existing FleetNet 800 service.

Please be assured that SaskTel Mobility will continue to maintain and support the existing FleetNet 800 service for two years, until December 2006, to allow time for our customers to evaluate their communication needs and options.