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Distress phones, physical barrier being looked at to increase High Level Bridge safety

EDMONTON – Installing distress phones, erecting a physical barrier, and proactive prevention are a few of the options the city is looking at to increase safety and security on the High Level Bridge.

“For the last year we have statistics, which is [from] 2013 I believe, there (were) 12 successful suicides off of the High Level Bridge,” said Staff Sergeant Malcolm Allan with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).

According to a report released late last week, installing distress phones at the bridge’s four entry points should be given a priority above all other recommendations. The phones would provide a direct link to 911 or The Support Network for those considering suicide.

“If there is access to the distress line right there then we can talk to them and listen to them, support them, get them to a point where they are feeling okay, there’s reasons for living,” said Nancy McCalder, executive director of The Support Network, an umbrella organization that helps people in the Edmonton area cope with crisis situations.

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Distress phones have proven successful in New York, where over a two-year period 30 out of 39 people who were contemplating suicide used the phone to call for help, the report (which can be read below) stated.

“Putting phones on the bridges, it certainly can’t hurt,” Allan said. “There are people that are not fully comitted to ending their own lives but their worlds are in such disarray that it’s taken them to the ledge of a bridge. We can save those people.”

The city is also looking at three alternatives for a barrier around the bridge, ranging from a $600,000 option which would see sections of the chain link fence replaced, to a $2.9 million option of replacing the fence with an anti-scalable barrier.

McCalder believes this option would also help some reconsider their choice to jump.

“What happens in the thinking process is that there’s a sober second thought. So by making it more difficult, you’re putting them in a position where they are not going to be so impulsive.”

The third option being presented to the city is a preventative approach which includes more lights and signage around the bridge, and more education on suicide prevention.

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“The bridge is just one means that people use to end their lives. People who are contemplating suicide will come up with all kinds of different means and I think what we need to do is to look at things to support people before they get that far,” McCalder said.

The report will be discussed by the City’s Community Services Committee on Monday.

High Level Bridge report

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