Telephone disruption tests Cumberland County EMO system

Emergency providers put plan in place to respond to calls

Published on July 12, 2017

Cumberland County EMO co-ordinator Mike Johnson

©Darrell Cole - Amherst News

AMHERST – A loss of telephone service in the Amherst area late last month was a key test for emergency measures officials in Cumberland County.

Now that they know the system they put in place works, they are working to raise public awareness about what to do when residents have no communications in an emergency.
“Several years ago when we had an outage we started working on a plan should it happen again,” Cumberland County Regional EMO co-ordinator Mike Johnson said. “This was really the first time we had an opportunity to test it and it worked very good.”
On June 27, telephone service to a number of prefixes was offline due to the failure of an electronic card at the Amherst office. The prefixes – including 667, 546, 545, 686 and 251 – were out for several hours affecting Aliant customers in the Amherst area as well as in Maccan, Nappan, Tidnish, Amherst Head, Collingwood, River Hebert, Joggins and Southampton.
Eastlink was not impacted and people could still use cell phones.
During the outage Aliant customers could not make telephone calls. People could not call 911 in an emergency and police, fire and EHS also were without phone service.
To get around this, a cell phone was used at dispatch to receive calls and the TMR radio system was also available. Both Valley Dispatch and Shubie Radio were available and the Mutual Aid 2 talk group was established to provide communications among emergency providers.
“The system worked,” he said. “There are a few things we want to work on going forward, but everything we planned seemed to work well.”
Johnson said EMO has established a system in which each of the fire departments in the affected areas would be staffed so that people in an emergency could go there to get help and access first responders. This would be done either by cell phone or through the provincial TMR system.
Fire officials would be backed up by amateur radio, who would give relief to firefighters should they need to respond to calls.
Johnson said he wants to get the message out to people should telephone service be disrupted again. If it does happen again, people should listen to local radio – whether it be CFTA, CKDH or Six Rivers Radio – advising them to go to the nearest fire department if they need help.
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