Tens of thousands of customers across Atlantic Canada and parts of Eastern Canada — including those in the Montreal and Toronto areas — were without phone and cell service from about just before noon to 4 p.m. NL time as Bell Aliant dealt with a technical disruption in service. The outage also affected other providers, including Telus and Koodoo.
Once it was restored, it took about an hour for things to return to normal, as the system was overloaded with customers’ cellphone usage while services were being revived.
The outage — which was reportedly caused by a fibre cut on the Bell network — caused havoc for plenty of people in this province.
Social media, including Twitter and Facebook, lit up with complaints from customers and businesses affected by the outages.
Customers calling Bell Aliant were greeted with a voicemail message, indicating it was experiencing technical difficulties and suggesting people call back later.
Just before noon, Bell Aliant posted on its Twitter account, “We’re aware of an issue impacting our services and are currently investigating to restore. Thank you for your patience.”
As a result of the communications interruptions, 911 emergency service was disrupted, banks in the metro area closed as operational systems failed, debit machines and Interact couldn’t operate, and airlines were bombarded with calls as some flights reported delays.
“Some people are able to call 911, but some who are getting through are calling just to see if it works and they’re bogging up the lines,” Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. Geoff Higdon told The Telegram during the outage.
“We’re asking people to use the 911 service for emergencies only.”
In news releases issued Friday afternoon, Eastern Health and the St. John’s Regional Fire Department both gave residents in the metro region advice about what to do in the event of an emergency. Eastern Health listed all the locations in which ambulances were stationed, while the fire department suggested using pay phones or going directly to the fire station.
A statement by the province’s Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment said that during the telecommunications outage the provincial government was in contact with Bell Aliant regarding widespread outages affecting the province and other parts of Canada.
“The department is working with its emergency management partners to ensure the safety of residents and accessibility to services,” it stated.
The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) in this province indicated services such as the OCIO service desk, Motor Registration Division and the Medical Care Plan had all been affected.
St. John’s International Airport tweeted that the outages slowed down operations and advised anyone with a scheduled flight to check with their airlines for up-to-date flight information.
Marie Manning, the St. John’s Airport Authority’s director of marketing and business development, said except for slight delays in flight times, airport operations weren’t affected too badly by the outage.
“Some of the airlines relied on Bell Aliant, so their processes were a little longer,” Manning said. “Safety and security is our number one priority and then business continuity.
“We worked with airline partners and assisted them where we could. They were still able to process customers, but it just took a little longer.”
In a statement to The Telegram, Air Canada said the technical disruption affected call centres and certain airport functions in the region, resulting in some flight delays and longer-than-normal call centre times.
The airline said it brought in extra staff and planned to used larger-than-normal aircrafts on certain routes to help accommodate any affected passengers.