A recent misdirected 911 call has highlighted the need to expand the emergency number to remote sections of the country. But one long-time advocate for the service wonders if the political will exists to provide the necessary funding. Late last month, a garage caught fire in the Newfoundland community of Cupids, Conception Bay. A visitor used a wireless phone to call 911 and was connected to an Aliant Telecom operator in Nova Scotia. The operator attempted to contact the emergency service in Newfoundland but 911 is only available in St. John’s and in Cornerbrook. "There is no 911 in rural Newfoundland," Robert Simmons of the 911 Education Group in St. John’s explains to Network Letter. "And if you call 911 on a landline, you’ll get a recording saying, ‘this number’s not in service. Have a nice day!’ So can you imagine discovering that the first time you were actually in a 911 situation." Randy Simms, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities, says the Cupids incident shows the need to expand the service throughout the province. Simms is a councillor in Mount Pearl, a suburb of St. John’s that has 911 service. The only areas with province-wide 911 are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. (P.E.I. was the last province to get a 911 system, signing on in May 2000.) Alberta is nearing ubiquity, with 85% of the geography containing 97% of the population able to use the emergency code. Simmons reports that in Newfoundland 911 only covers about 43% of the population and 4% of the geography. Most people are unaware of that, he says. "The reality of it is the media has got people brainwashed to think 911 is everywhere. I go on door-to-door campaigns regularly," he reports. "As a matter of fact, I was out last night getting feedback from people right at the doors. Right on the street, sir, where the rubber meets the road. Ninety per cent of the people that I talk to have no idea whatsoever that 911 is a municipal responsibility." He characterizes the establishment of the emergency service as a case study in buck-passing. The federal government tells the provinces they can handle the rollout. The provinces pass jurisdiction down to the municipalities. The municipalities then have to scrounge around for the funding to set up the service. Limited resources can translate into inadequate service. Simmons points to the operations in his own hometown. Although it has been in place for close to three decades, 911 in the Newfoundland capital is severely understaffed. "They have two operators here in St. John’s," Simmons notes. "Now they service a population of 240,000 people, two operators. You do the math, I don’t have to tell you that they’re already overworked."He places much of the blame at the feet of the governments, which he says consider 911 as a liability. "I’m convinced that if they could do away with it, they would," he opines. "But they know how important it is to the day-to-day safety of individuals and they know that they have to have it." The 911 Education Group is currently involved in programs to teach children how to use the emergency number. It is also running a concurrent campaign to instruct everyone on what is and what is not a 911 call. Operators across North America are reporting abuse of the emergency system, with people calling to complain about noisy neighbours, to ask for directions and to settle scores with spouses.