Editor’s Column: A new solution for safety

Harvest is underway. So far, we’ve only combined our peas, which have run about average. That’s pretty relieving after this dry summer. We’re a little worried about the canola — a nearby farmer told us his harvested canola is smaller than fine-ground pepper. That’s not a good sign.

Safety is important all year, but it comes to mind even more during harvest when more machines are in motion and more people are out working. On our farm, we’ve made sure our 10-year old can easily call 911 for help in an emergency. We keep our land location on a bulletin board in a convenient place so he or any guests can tell an operator where we are. But, of course, I worry that maybe that won’t be enough.

Now that our emergency services are co-ordinated by central dispatchers, you can’t phone in and say, “the fire is in the yard south of Glen Richards’ barn.” A 911 operator in Prince Albert probably doesn’t know the back roads near Swift Current well enough to understand if you tell her to get the ambulance driver to turn left where the Peterson’s house used to be.

Theoretically, this isn’t a problem. I’ve talked to spokespersons from the B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan 911 agencies. Representatives from all three organizations told me that, if you don’t have a typical street address, all you need is your land location and the dispatcher will get help to you. If you’re still using a landline, location information is usually automatically sent to the 911 operator. Andrew Renfree, 911 program manager for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, emailed to tell me that, in the future, they’ll even be able to get that location information from your cell phone.

This is all great. Except, occasionally, when it isn’t.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard a few stories from various places about problems getting emergency services to the right remote rural location. Typically, the people telling the stories seem to believe the problem is a miscommunication between the centralized 911 operator and the local volunteer who answers the phone for the volunteer fire department. I can’t be the only one hearing these stories.

The solutions is in the STARS

STARS, the non-profit helicopter air ambulance organization is coming to our rescue with a new app that just might solve these problems.

SOLUS, the new STARS smartphone app, uses your smartphone’s GPS system to track your location (iPhone or Android). If you have a wreck, the app puts you in touch with a live person in the STARS Emergency Link Centre. (They won’t necessarily send a STARS helicopter, unless that’s what you need.)

They already know exactly where you are.

And there’s more. While you’re telling them what happened, the SOLUS app is already alerting the emergency contacts you’ve pre-loaded into the app. Your wife and your son can be on their way to the field while you’re still explaining why you need an ambulance.

To make it even better, SOLUS also includes a “Neighbour Helping Neighbour” safety network. People living near you who have volunteered to be part of this network will also get the alert, so they can show up to lend a hand while you wait for professional help. (Of course, like any network, it’s only as good as the number of people in it. If more people use the SOLUS app, more of your neighbours will be part of your local network.)

The only catch: it’s not free. SOLUS costs $9.99 per month, per phone. On a family farm with a working husband, wife, child and farm employee, this would run $480 year. Compared to the average annual combine payment, this is a pretty minor fee. And, revenues go to STARS — many of us are already making regular donations to this cause.

Want to try before you buy? Dow AgroSciences has you covered. They’ll pay for your subscription for the first three months. Text “SOLUS” to 1-204-817-1984. Dow AgriSciences’ automated service will get back to you right away with a promo code and more information about how to use it.

I texted the number. It works just fine. This is not a scam.

Read more about the service at www.solus.ca.

Have a safe harvest, Leeann.

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