Emergency shelter in Cape Breton Highlands National Park gets satellite phone

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Emergency shelter in Cape Breton Highlands National Park gets satellite phone

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is now home to a one-of-a-kind safety feature.

A specialized satellite phone has been installed in the emergency shelter on North Mountain.

Parks Canada has five emergency shelters between French Mountain and Big Intervale.

The shelters include a fireplace, wood, electricity and some benches in case travellers encounter problems in some of the more remote parts of the park. Four of the shelters have a landline to call for help.

But on North Mountain, that’s not the case.

“The reality of telecommunication and connectivity infrastructure are quite challenging,” said Anne-Claude Pépin, Cape Breton Highlands National Park resource management officer.

There hasn’t been a landline connecting Big Intervale to Pleasant Bay in many years and there is also little to no cell service on the mountain.

The new satellite phone is a first for Parks Canada.

“It actually only works to connect to our emergency dispatch so it’s kind of a neat security feature in that sense, but it’s also a very efficient way to get help to your location,” said Pépin.

Someone in need of assistance can simply open a box mounted on the wall of the shelter and push a button. The call connects to Parks Canada’s dispatch service in Jasper, Alta., where an attendant can connect with local emergency services.

Anne-Claude Pépin with Cape Breton Highlands National Park stands next the park’s new emergency satellite phone. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Parks Canada has been working on this solution for several months but the issue of connectivity was highlighted in October when a couple’s car caught fire.

Bystanders looked for a phone in the emergency shelter after being unable to call 911 on their cell phones. No one was hurt but the car was destroyed.

It’s unclear how often the shelters are used but Pépin said they have been needed over the years.

“We see evidence of people using it whether it’s footprints or the wood that’s been burnt, used, whether it’s used a lot or not. If it can make one person more comfortable one day, Parks Canada is happy,” she said.

North Mountain, and nearby Big Intervale, are known for being challenging areas for winter driving. The area is sometimes closed to traffic in the winter and has seen snowbanks taller than the machines clearing the roads.

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