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Wireless companies should have been in command centre: Nova Scotia premier

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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he wants Canada’s major telecommunications providers to send representatives to Halifax the next time the province opens its emergency command centre to prepare for a big storm.

McNeil was responding Thursday to widespread complaints about failing cellphone and internet services in the wake of post-tropical storm Dorian, which knocked out power to about 500,000 homes and business across the Maritimes on the weekend.


“The command centre worked as we thought it would,” McNeil said after a cabinet meeting. “We had all of our partners there …. But the telecom companies weren’t there.”


The premier said their absence prevented the province from getting critical information about cellphone and internet failures in real time.


“We need them in the room,” he said. “We need to know where their infrastructure is and what has been damaged …. There was a lot of confusion because all of the partners weren’t in the same room.”


Various wireless and wireline providers have confirmed they dispatched crews to repair damaged cell towers, but company officials have also reminded users that most towers have limited backup electricity, leaving them vulnerable to failure in extended power outages.


Bell Aliant spokeswoman Katie Hatfield offered the following statement when asked if the company would send someone to the command centre the next time it is opened: “We’re working with the government to discuss the most effective support of emergency operations.”


Hatfield said the company was in continuous contact with emergency officials during and after the storm.

“We provided regular updates on the status of our wireless, wireline and public safety radio networks and co-ordinated our work with the authorities to focus and prioritize restoration efforts,” she said.


Heather Robinson of Rogers Communications said the company would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the government.


“We agree it is important for all industry stakeholders like gas, hydro, and telecom to work with governments during critical incidents,” she wrote in an email.


“We welcome every opportunity to collaborate deeper with the province of Nova Scotia as we do with other provinces with established critical infrastructure processes.”


Telus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


On Tuesday, Telus issued a public apology for the inconvenience caused by lost services, and the company announced it wouldn’t charge customers for some fees.


Nova Scotia NDP business critic Claudia Chender has said telecom companies should be required to give the public detailed information about outages and service restoration times, which is already the case for electric utilities.


In Nova Scotia, many residents have come forward to complain about poor internet and cell service in the aftermath of the storm, with some saying their dead phones left them with no way to call for help or seek critical information.

In Prince Edward Island, Dorian caused major communications headaches for the volunteer fire department in Alberton, which has a three-tier system to ensure firefighters can be paged when there is an alarm.


But the system failed when the storm knocked out landlines, internet services and text messaging.


Alberton fire Chief Shannon Dumville said there were five calls for service while the system was down, which forced him to use a short-range, two-way VHF radio.


As he could only reach firefighters who lived in town, that left the chief short-staffed on at least one of the calls.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said if Maritimers aren’t satisfied with their internet and cellphone service, they should complain to the federal telecom regulator.


He said cellphones and the internet have become essential tools for Canadians, and he cited a $2-billion federal funding program that is aimed at strengthening the country’s infrastructure as climate change promises to deliver more intense storms in the years ahead.

2019-09-18