My golden rule to deal with any situation is – Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Last Wednesday, an explosion knocked out internet service provider Shaw Communications and a host of other nearby businesses in Downtown Calgary, Alberta. What followed was complete chaos as more than 20,000 people were without telephone, cable and Internet services.
What’s worse, the explosion left thousands of people unable to call 911 and knocked out the city’s 311 information services line. To Shaw’s credit, the company claimed that services were fully restored and call centres throughout the country were operational again by Friday.
Thankfully, there was no loss of lives. However, the incident does expose gaping holes into Shaw’s disaster management plans as well as contingency measures to deal with such situations.
Several nearby hospitals lost power and the explosion also affected several carriers, ATMs and debit terminals throughout the city. The worrying part – the Alberta Health Services electronic network was knocked down and although it’s expected to be back up and running today, some of the damage caused may be irreparable. Hundreds of surgeries were cancelled/ postponed and patients asked to delay non-urgent tests until at least Monday.
The City of Calgary was forced to initiate its municipal emergency plan, as its 311 hotline and many of its office phones had gone down. The explosion took its toll on three radio stations – Country 105, AM 770 and Q 107 taking them off-air. Motor vehicle and land title registry services were down and the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development reported an outage as well. In short, the explosion caused a widespread data meltdown in Calgary.
Interestingly, the Shaw building had a backup/ fail-over network as well, but it was damaged as a result of the explosion. Clearly, Shaw needs to revisit its disaster management plan. While systems with mirror backups were restored by Friday, several others (including critical ones) are still in the process of being brought back up. To its credit, the city’s 311 hotline and all other phone services were operational again by Thursday, and the municipal emergency plan was declared to over by mid-morning.
However, it does leave several questions unanswered about Shaw’s own measures to deal with such situations. It remains unclear what caused the initial fire.