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Prepare for All Scenarios” Advises Official Following Wildfires Impact on Telecommunication Lines

Wildfires wreak havoc across western Canada, leaving several communities grappling with severed communication lines, rendering internet and phone services inaccessible. Northwestel, a major telecommunications provider catering to Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and parts of northern British Columbia, reported extensive disruptions in telephone, internet, and long-distance services.

The affected regions, including Yukon, northern British Columbia, and portions of Northwest Territories, encountered significant challenges with internet connectivity, long-distance calls, and mobile services. Even Nunavut witnessed disruptions in long-distance communication, while intermittent internet connectivity plagued areas like Yellowknife and the South Slave region. While service has been restored, Northwestel acknowledges this incident as unprecedented in its history.

Tammy April, Northwestel’s vice-president of customer experience, described the situation as a “perfect storm.” The rapid escalation of two wildfires resulted in the failure of both east-west and north-south fibre optic routes within a short span. Despite having geographically diverse routes to safeguard services, the simultaneous impact on both routes posed a unique challenge.

The disruptions raise concerns regarding the reliability of telecommunications infrastructure during natural disasters like wildfires. Julia Duchesne, Yukon’s emergency coordination centre information officer, highlighted the necessity of alternative communication methods, such as radio, during outages. She attributed the additional challenges to issues with satellite phones and the internet, possibly exacerbated by a recent geomagnetic storm.

With wildfires intensifying in frequency and severity, Duchesne emphasized the importance of preparedness for unforeseen emergencies. The disruption underscores the critical need for reliable communication channels to access essential services like emergency helplines.

Telecom companies like Northwestel, Bell, Telus, and Rogers are actively evaluating and mitigating potential risks to prevent such incidents. Measures include ensuring power availability for key sites, maintaining responsive teams for rapid outage response, and deploying critical equipment to sustain wireless services.

Government bodies like the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) are collaborating with telecom providers to minimize the disruptive impact of service outages. This involves promoting network reliability and implementing protocols for reporting and addressing major outages promptly.

Emergency officials stress the importance of preparedness, advocating for the maintenance of emergency kits equipped to sustain individuals for up to 72 hours without electricity. Duchesne recommends including a crank radio in emergency kits to facilitate communication during communication outages.

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