Bell says "isolated issue" caused 911 failure

911Lanark County officials have received more information about an isolated issue that occurred with the 9-1-1 system earlier this month, along with assurances that preventive protocols are in place.

On July 5, 9-1-1 calls for an ambulance went unanswered in the Clayton area, after volunteer Carl Welk collapsed while tidying the United Church yard. A citizen then called the Mississippi Mills fire chief, Art Brown, who contacted ambulance dispatch from his portable radio. Mr. Welk died at the scene.

Lanark County has a contract for 9-1-1 call-answering services with the Ontario Provincial Police, who operate a Central Emergency Reporting Bureau (CERB) in North Bay. The service is provided in conjunction with Bell Canada. Emergency calls to 9-1-1 are answered at the CERB and then rerouted to the appropriate responding agencies, whether it is police, fire or ambulance.

In a conference call last week, Lanark County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Hannah said representatives from Bell 9-1-1 explained to him and the OPP CERB Team that the service interruption occurred when a network card in the telephone system failed. This resulted in six calls regarding this single incident not reaching the CERB, including five calls from one land line.

“When a 9-1-1 call is made, the phone network system searches for an available line at the CERB to make a connection,” Mr. Hannah explained. “On July 5, a network failure affected several services, including 9-1-1, and so the connection did not happen.” Mr. Hannah added there are several redundancies in the system, however, that allowed for the problem to be resolved quickly. “The first call has been identified as being made at 8:05 a.m., and by 8:06 an alarm was activated in the system that indicated a 9-1-1 call had gone unanswered. The alarm was received and acted upon at 8:07, which identified the first of the lines that was not functioning as designed. When the effected lines were identified, the process of rerouting the system away from those lines began. By 8:20 the effected lines had been isolated and calls began to process normally at the CERB. Mr. Hannah said he has been assured no other calls were made during that time period. “The county, OPP and Bell work continuously to ensure methods and processes are in place to deal with these events,” he said. “In this case, the network switch failure was immediately detected and restoration activities were initiated and completed quickly.”

Mr. Hannah noted that, over time, potential failure points in the 9-1-1 system have been identified and protocols developed to minimize service interruption when they occur. “Tests are conducted regularly to ensure the system functions as designed and contingency plans are annually reviewed with all 9-1-1 agencies to ensure restoration occurs quickly in the event of a technical problem.” CAO/Treasurer Kurt Greaves said Lanark County has been using the 9-1-1 system since 2002. “This is the first disruption of service we have experienced.”

Warden Bill Dobson (Montague Reeve) said the county will continue to work with officials from Bell Canada and the OPP to ensure the 9-1-1 system remains reliable. “Public safety is our primary concern. The 9-1-1 system is standard across the majority of communities in North America due to its ease of use, and people should continue to use it.”

Mr. Hannah added it is important for callers to stay on the line when they call 9-1-1 so the system can detect incoming calls and so that call answerers can collect the information they need in an emergency.