Lessons learned

The learning never stops in emergency management. Michel Milot, manager of emergency telecommunications with Industry Canada Emergency Telecommunications (ICET), outlines problems encountered, and lessons learned, in both the Ontario blackout of 2003 and the ice storm of 1998:

Stormy weather: The main problem during the ice storm … was the telephone poles that went down during the first one to two days. But the telephone companies put up lines quickly. There were a lot of difficulties because they had to re-establish communication, but it only took a few days to connect everybody. During the ice storm, the ICET facilitated the supply of equipment to support provincial emergency workers. ICET also helped in maintaining backup power supply for the continuity of telecommunications networks by co-ordinating available resources with federal and provincial bodies and authorities in the telecom industry. Means of communication were assured for National Defence, police departments and provincial officials.

Lessons learned: The storm and the blackout truly tested the capabilities of emergency services. Notable lessons learned relate mostly to priority access to telephone service by emergency personnel and access to power supplies. During the first hours of the blackout, wireless service networks were overloaded due to a high volume of usage. Telecom companies experienced problems in receiving fuel used to generate the local area network facilities and telecommunication switches, including 9/11 systems. The blackout stressed the importance of strong partnership and communication with the telecom industry, whereas the storm emphasized the importance of priority access to transit routes for telecom personnel to transport equipment and perform maintenance.

Lights out: The following are findings from a report on how the Internet held up during the blackout. The study was conducted by Renesys, a U.S.-based Internet connectivity monitoring firm, and published in U.S. News & World Report Nov. 25, 2003:

• Thousands of significant networks (such as those run by corporations and government) and millions of individual Internet users were offline for hours or days, even though the largest Internet backbones were apparently unaffected by the massive power outage.

• The geographic area affected by the blackout included more than 9,700 globally advertised customer networks belonging to more than 3,500 businesses and other private and public organizations.

• Of those networks, more than 2,000 suffered severe outages for longer than four hours and more than 1,400 were down for longer than 12 hours.

• Renesys’s conclusion: Not enough organizations have backup power supplies: “The scale and duration of the outages we measured during the blackout strongly suggest that without additional investment in higher-quality interconnection and power at its edges, the Internet will be in no shape to supersede the telephone network as the nation’s primary communications infrastructure.” 061721

– Williams

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