Maritime 911 outage ‘extremely concerning,’ says N.S. cabinet minister

Click to play video: 'Temporary 911 outage affects Maritime provinces'
Temporary 911 outage affects Maritime provinces
WATCH: A service disruption left some Maritime residents unable to contact 911 on Tuesday morning. For nearly two hours, anyone calling from a landline couldn’t get through for emergency services. Global’s Robert Lothian has the government’s response and the cause of the outage. – Jan 31, 2023

A Bell Aliant software update triggered a 911 service disruption in the three Maritime provinces Tuesday morning, in an incident one Nova Scotia minister described as “never before experienced in our province.”

“911 is critical infrastructure, and an outage of any size creates concern and worry,” John Lohr, the minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office, told reporters in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Between 6 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., people in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. had problems reaching 911 from landline phones. Some cellphones were also impacted.

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Lohr said he isn’t aware of any incidents that arose from people not being able to get through to 911, but said the incident was “extremely concerning.”

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“I think it’s clear that could cost somebody their life if they didn’t receive the services they need,” he said.

“Our emergency service and our responders here in the province are very, very good … and not being able to get ahold of them could have all kinds of potential impacts in an emergency.”

Lohr said his top concern is understanding the full impact and breadth of the outage, and there will be a debrief with emergency partners and the other affected provinces.

“We’re aware of how disconcerting this would be for the province to not have this service for two hours this morning,” he said.

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The interruption prompted an emergency alert to be issued in Nova Scotia. During the interruption, people were asked to call their local police detachment or fire station if they needed help.

The province shared the following phone numbers, and encouraged people to write them down or save them to their phone “to ensure quick access in case of a future disruption.”

  • Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM): 1-902-490-5020
  • Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM): 1-902-563-5151
  • Cape Breton Island excluding CBRM: 1-800-803-7267
  • Mainland Nova Scotia (excluding HRM and Kentville): 1-800-803-7267
  • Kentville: 1-902-678-2100
  • Emergency Health Services (EHS) toll-free number: 1-888-346-9999.

In a statement, Bell Aliant spokesperson Katie Hatfield said the root cause was a software update introduced around 6 a.m. in preparation for 10-digit dialing in New Brunswick.

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This triggered “unexpected call processing failures” to 911, though all other types of calls were unaffected.

“Once we realized the issue, we worked to roll back the update to restore services as quickly as possible,” she said.

“We have adjusted our processes and safeguards to ensure that this type of issue will not happen again, including adjusting our test plans for future updates.”

She said 911 outages are rare and receive the full attention of their engineering teams, adding that the issue was an “isolated incident.”

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