The Nova Scotia minister responsible for the Emergency Management Office (EMO) says Tuesday’s two-hour outage of 911 service should never have happened.
“We know that when someone calls 911, every second counts and not being able to get through would be very unnerving, so that’s a huge concern for us,” John Lohr told reporters Tuesday.
The Nova Scotia RCMP had said that 911 lines were experiencing technical difficulties across the province. Service has also been disrupted in some areas of New Brunswick and PEI
Bell Aliant re-established the lines for all three provinces at 9:30 am AT.
In a statement to CBC News, the company said the cause of the outage was a 6 a.m. software upgrade in preparation for 10-digit dialing to New Brunswick, “resulting in an unexpected failure in processing calls to the 9-1-1”.
Bell has confirmed that 911 service has been restored in Nova Scotia. Please call 911 again if you need emergency assistance. Do not call to test the system.
He said the outage only affected landlines and that people could still call 911 from wireless devices.
“Once we became aware of the issue, we worked to roll back the update to restore services as quickly as possible. We have adjusted our processes and security measures to ensure this type of issue does not occur again, including adjusting our plans for future updates,” a Bell Aliant spokesperson said in an email.
“9-1-1 related outages are rare and receive the full attention of our engineering teams. This current issue was an isolated incident.”
Paul Mason, EMO’s chief executive, said the infrastructure where 911 calls are routed is located in Fredericton with a backup facility in Moncton, NB, “which is why all three provinces were affected.”
Outage alerts across the province were sent to mobile phones, televisions and radios, Mason said.
A first for Nova Scotia
The RCMP had directed people to contact local emergency services directly, such as police, fire and other services.
The Nova Scotia Office of Emergency Management sent out an emergency alert directing people in different parts of the province to the proper emergency numbers if necessary.
Lohr said he’s not aware of any instances where people were unable to reach 911 during the outage.
During the conference, Lohr said the blackout “was an event never before experienced in our province.” However, there was a service outage on PEI in 2020 that affected parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Mason said that while there have been outages in phone service where people had difficulty reaching 911 before, the 911 network continued to operate. What made Tuesday’s outage unique, Mason said, is that the outage occurred on the 911 network.
“[The 911 network] It’s a very robust system and as far as I know we’ve never had an incident like this before, but obviously there was a problem here today and I think it’s worth looking at closely to see how it can be improved,” Mason said.
Ritesh Kotak, a cybersecurity and digital expert, said the network outage is worrisome.
“They are systems essentially regulated by the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission]so the federal government,” Kotak told CBC News.
They’re supposed to work 100 percent of the time, not 99 percent, so every time there’s an outage, it’s very problematic.”
Kotak said there are multiple redundancies built into a 911 center, so if one fails, there are ways to route calls to the centers that are open. He said cell phones could also be used to communicate with 911, even those without a SIM card.
City officials are closely monitoring developments with the 911 outage.
David Mitchell, the mayor of Bridgewater, NS, said he was pleased to see that an emergency alert went out quickly and alternative numbers were provided to the public.
“Beyond that emergency alert, almost everyone has a cell phone. I don’t know how else I could communicate it more broadly,” Mitchell said.
“So I think there was an understanding of how to contact emergency services. I will have a more in-depth discussion with my police chief in the next few days to see if calls were coming in and if any gaps were noted.” “
David Kogan, the mayor of Amherst, NS, said he hasn’t heard directly from anyone affected by the outage, but said the importance of the service is not lost on him.
“I think the service has been pretty good, but it’s such a vital service that must be preserved at all times,” Kogon said.
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