Councillors Begon, Waterman and myself are attending the UBCM meetings this week in Vancouver. We were fortunate to be able to do a 5 minute presentation to the Small Talk forum,(small communities) below is my presentation.
My name is Brad Unger, and I am the Mayor of Gold River
I am here this morning to bring forward the issue of Cell Phone coverage for rural communities and isolated highways. We believe Cell Phone coverage to be an important infrastructure component for every community.
Over the last three years we have met with Ministers, Deputy Ministers, their Staff, MLA’s, MP’s, Telus Representatives, VIHA Board of Directors and our local Mowachat/Muchalaht First Nation. Every one of these contacts agrees that Cell Phone Service will enhance safety for our Community. We also realize having Cell service within our community would enhance Tourism and bring many economic opportunities we currently can’t achieve.
Ultimately, it is the safety of our Residents and Visitors and our First Responders that we continue to advocate for this vital service. Our Highway is 89 km from Campbell River, with No cell coverage!!
So you can imagine if you are in an accident just 20 minutes from Gold River, you hope someone is travelling the highway at the same time, they come upon you, stop and either help you if they can, or they drive back to Gold River to call 911, who will then dispatch the First Responders to the accident scene. We all know what the Golden Hour is, well, time is up!!
Now about our First Responders:
On April 22 of this year, we lost all use of Telus long distance phone line, which included 911 Services, the cause, a fiberoptic connection failed this outage only affected Gold River.
I would like to share with you some of the communication that I received about that outage, Sergeant Chris McGee Gold River’s Detachment Commander reported:
“On Saturday April 22, at 11:30 am Constable Watkin requested backup through our dispatch centre and learned that the long distance phone lines were down for Gold River, this included the 911 services. The RCMP members were able to make arrangements to safeguard themselves with Radio back up protocol and worked with our partner agencies Health Clinic, BCAS, GRFD as well as community residents to spread the word of the outage. The outage lasted roughly 12 hours, and required some innovative thinking to address the limited emergency service communications.
Public safety in our community was compromised by not being able to call 911 for police emergencies, RCMP officers safety was compromised as they could not call for backup, BC Ambulance Service and Gold River Fire Department were not able to be called out for emergencies during the outage.”
Dr. Durante Gold River Physician:
“During this 911 outage, our on call team dealt with a potentially life threatening situation. The patient reached us through the Nurses radio pager and the Nurse happened to be at the Clinic at the time. An astute and helpful neighbour rushed the patient to our clinic in his own vehicle. Without those lucky coincidences, this situation might very well have been a fatality.”
Donna Schneider - Paramedic Unit Chief Gold River:
“The situation of the 911 system being unavailable caused a significant amount of stress for the First Responders. I applaud my peers in the emergency response sector on the quick thinking, hard work and personal sacrifices they made in keeping the Village as safe as was possible during the outage.
Gold River Ambulance is not able to keep up with the technology introduced to the Ambulance Service province wide where cell coverage exists.
From a safety point, not all residences we attend to have phones. We cannot call the RCMP on our portable radios as they have gone digital. If we need them we have to go back to the Ambulance and get dispatch to call them.”
So my question to all of you other small rural communities with isolated highways.
If you do not currently have cell coverage, is it important to you?
The Federal and Provincial Government support funding programs to enhance high speed internet, we believe cell coverage is just as much if not more important. Small rural communities and the resource sector are the back bone of our Province. If senior levels of government can support funding for Internet Service then for safety and economic opportunities we believe support and funding should be available to provide Cell Phone coverage throughout the Province.
Some would say “why should the taxpayers of the Province have to fund the rural communities in this way.” Recently, we have seen government abolish the tolls on the bridges in the lower mainland, we understand the shortfall of those dollars will have to be made up at least partially from the taxpayers of the Province including the rural taxpayer who may never drive on a city bridge. In turn, I wonder why those same taxpayers, rural and urban shouldn’t be paying for Cell Phone services in rural areas.
It’s a matter of safety!!!