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Emergency Management in Indigenous Communities

Severe weather events impact communities across Canada every year. In 2021, forest fires affected much of the North and Western parts of Canada and the United States, and on the Pacific side of the continent, earthquakes are a persistent threat.

Rural and remote parts of Canada, particularly First Nations and Indigenous communities, can be especially exposed, with their isolated locations having fewer resources available to prepare and respond to emergencies.

In the summer of 2018, British Columbia suffered through multiple forest fires. The largest fires occurred in the Regional Districts of Kitimat-Stikine, Bulkley-Nechako, and the Cariboo. These three Regional Districts have some of the most concentrated number of Indigenous communities in British Columbia.

One community near Burns Lake, a small town which lies in the Bulkley-Nechako Regional district, was threatened by the approaching fires. RCMP officers were dispatched to support the emergency services in the area. However, due to limited connectivity, reaching households to inform them of the need to evacuate was challenging. Officers had to resort to going door to ensure people knew they needed to urgently evacuate.  

Once the fires abated, a meeting took place with the communities to discuss emergency response. During the meeting, improved connectivity was identified as a critical first step to improving safety and emergency response.

Bridging the digital divide

While there are accelerated efforts to bring fast broadband to rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, and billions of dollars have been earmarked by all levels of government and industry to improve connectivity, there is still much work to be done.

It’s estimated that 34.8% of First Nations reserves and 45.6% of rural households do not have the targeted 50/10 Mbps broadband service¹.

We appreciate the role we have in expanding our network to Canadians and bridging the digital divide. We are increasing our investments in fibre and fixed wireless access to cover more homes across the nation. And our proposed transaction with Shaw will enable us to accelerate our plans, with a $1 billion Rural and Indigenous Connectivity Fund dedicated to connecting more rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.  

Rogers is also expanding its 5G wireless network in B.C. to provide reliable connectivity along Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears, where many Indigenous, (MMIW2S+) women have gone missing or have been found murdered.

Rogers, with our 5G partner Ericsson, will build 12 new cellular towers that will provide 252 kms of new highway cellular coverage. These towers will close connectivity gaps, providing continuous coverage along all 720 km of this northern highway.

Technology and emergency response

We are starting to see glimpses of how advances in technology and communications can help with emergency response.

Through our multi-year partnership with University of British Columbia (UBC), we’re leveraging the power of 5G to help develop solutions to improve emergency management. This includes using machine learning and sensor technology to predict the trajectory of an earthquake and subsequent Tsunamis to alert people to take the necessary actions to save lives and protect critical infrastructure. We’re also collaborating with BC Wildfire to understand how 5G can help predict and manage wildfires more effectively.

Canadian drone company InDro Robotics has been working closely with the RCMP, provincial law enforcement and paramedics to deploy drones that can travel long-distances over a wireless network and provide real-time information and deliver supplies to remote areas where it is difficult for people to safely navigate. This real time support and functionality can be invaluable in the event of natural disasters such as wildfires and floods.

And In the US, researchers are using 4G/5G data to estimate the level of humidity in the air. Collecting data using cellular signals overcomes limitations of typical forecasting technologies such as satellites or weather stations. 

Severe weather and natural disasters will continue to challenge communities across Canada. Together with partners across Government, industry and communities, Rogers is working to expand and enhance connectivity to rural, remote, and Indigenous communities that will give rise to solutions that help us better predict, prepare, and manage the impact of these events.

Exiting the pandemic, all of us are hoping to do things more effectively and quickly. Emergency management is high on the list of areas we hope to improve.

Jennifer Campeau, Director, Indigenous Collaboration and Charit Katoch, Director, Public Policy

¹ CRTC Communication Market Reports, Table 3 Availability of Internet services with speeds of 50/10Mbps and unlimited data, by population size and province/territory (% of households), 2018-2019