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Posted: January 13, 2022

Safety improved thanks to efforts of local committee

After five years of effort and urging by a local committee, Parks Canada installed four emergency satellite phones at four strategic locations in Kootenay National Park (KNP) last week.

The lack of emergency communications facilities on Highway 93 through KNP had been a safety issue for the travelling public for decades.

To address this dangerous situation, two Windermere residents, Tracy Litchfield and Colleen Roberts, formed the Committee to Secure Emergency Communications Facilities (CSECF) in KNP in 2017.

Meetings were held with Parks Canada to discuss the issue and possible solutions. The Committee was advised cell phones could not be installed in the park as the service providers stated it was not economically feasible due to a lack of power and high infrastructure costs. Focus then turned to finding alternative emergency communications facilities and improving public awareness of the situation.

At the committee’s urging, Parks Canada installed signage at Kootenay Crossing notifying the travelling public there was an Emergency Radio Call Box. New signage was also installed at the entrances to KNP informing visitors of the lack of cell service along Highway 93 in KNP. Additionally, mileage markers were installed.

“The interprovincial highway is a major route for thousands from Alberta and Saskatchewan driving to/from BC for tourism and business. Many motorists are also from the Windemere Valley and use it to access Calgary and other parts of that province. In addition, there is commercial truck traffic (mining, logging, fuel etc.),” a CSECF backgrounder noted.

“Up until a few weeks ago, when accidents occurred, victims had to wait until Parks Canada personnel or a truck driver with a satellite radio stopped and called emergency services. Such delays can have serious consequences. Alternatively, passing motorists could call 911 once they reached cell phone range. Often, they did not know the accident’s location, how serious it was, and what (if any) emergency services were required. This resulted in confusion and inefficient use of RCMP/EMS/FIRE resources as they searched for an accident they may or may not need to respond.”

In 2021, the Kicking Horse Canyon (KHC) Phase 4 Project on the TransCanada (east of Golden) led to the rerouting of all its traffic onto Highway 93 through KNP during off peak periods. This escalated the need for emergency communications facilities and the Committee once again expressed its concerns.

Subsequently, in February 2021, a commitment was made that Parks Canada would install four permanent Emergency Satellite Phones along Highway 93 in KNP and provide location signage.

This was a joint project between Parks Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) with the $80,000 cost split equally.

“The committee is very grateful emergency satellite phones have been installed that provide 24/7 emergency dispatch services (from Banff). With their installation, motorists will never be more that 15 minutes by car from a satellite phone which greatly enhances the safety of the travelling public along Highway 93 in KNP,” the committee stated.

The Emergency Satellite Phones are at the following locations:

Marble Canyon Day Use Area

Simpson River Trailhead

Kootenay River Day Use Area

Kootenay Crossing Operations Centre

Map showing location of phones courtesy Kootenay National Park

e-KNOW file photos


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