Sev­ered ser­vice

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial -

Maybe it’s a wake-up call — or, at least, an at­tempt at a wake-up call. Last Fri­day’s sud­den cell­phone mini-calamity — the dam­age ap­par­ently caused when two fi­bre op­tic ca­bles were ac­ci­den­tally sev­ered by con­struc­tion in or near Drum­mondville, Que., — left pub­lic of­fi­cials scram­bling across the At­lantic prov­inces.

Bell and Telus cell ser­vice went down, along with ser­vice to Vir­gin and Koodo users. Debit and credit sys­tems went black in some lo­ca­tions; air­craft check-ins didn’t work, and some In­ter­net ser­vice was af­fected.

More im­por­tantly, 911 ser­vice in a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in At­lantic Canada ei­ther couldn’t be ac­cessed by cell­phone, or, in some cases, couldn’t be ac­cessed at all.

In Hal­i­fax, vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers were told to head to un­staffed fire de­part­ments to en­sure those sta­tions could be dis­patched de­spite the sys­tem fail­ure. In St. John’s and Saint John, emer­gency ve­hi­cles were dis­patched to strate­gic lo­ca­tions so that peo­ple with­out cell con­nec­tions could eas­ily ac­cess ser­vices.

What’s worth think­ing about in all this is that, even though cell­phone sys­tems have got­ten more ro­bust and backup sys­tems do ex­ist, ev­ery­thing doesn’t al­ways go right. And some­times, the first time any­one re­al­izes there’s a prob­lem is when ev­ery­thing goes dark.

In a lot of ways, more than ever be­fore, we have a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of eggs in a very small num­ber of bas­kets: many peo­ple have no land­lines at all and de­pend ex­clu­sively on cel­lu­lar cov­er­age. Oth­ers who still do have land­lines use home phone op­tions that are re­liant com­pletely on In­ter­net ser­vice.

And things can and do go wrong. A 2006 fire in a tele­phone com­pany sys­tem in St. John’s blacked out com­mu­ni­ca­tions and other emer­gency dis­patch for hours.

A 2011 ca­ble cut in north­ern New Brunswick — along with a faulty backup sys­tem — caused a three-hour com­mu­ni­ca­tions black­out.

Fur­ther afield, a 2011 satel­lite tech­ni­cal is­sue cut off long-dis­tance phone ser­vice, In­ter­net and halted air travel out of Nu­navut for al­most 12 hours.

Dur­ing any of those in­stances, it’s pos­si­ble that some­one’s life could hang in the bal­ance.

And re­mem­ber: ev­ery sin­gle one of the above­men­tioned in­ci­dents was the re­sult of a ca­ble-sev­er­ing or some­thing else that could truly be classed as ac­ci­den­tal.

Any­one set­ting out to ac­tively dis­rupt the sys­tem could ob­vi­ously be much more ef­fec­tive.

The mes­sage is that noth­ing is fail­safe, and you can’t al­ways de­pend on emer­gency ser­vices to be only a phone call away.

The other thing emer­gency ser­vices should take away from it?

As rare as th­ese oc­cur­rences are, emer­gency of­fi­cials not only have to plan for them (and they al­ready are plan­ning) but they have to let cit­i­zens know ahead of time what to do if emer­gen­cies strike and there is no dial tone or cell tower avail­able.

And for ev­ery­one else? Pay at­ten­tion, so if that time comes, you’ll be ready.

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