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911 issues caused by change to 10-digit dialing in New Brunswick: Bell Aliant


911 emergency calling in all three Maritime provinces has been fixed following service issues Tuesday morning.

The Nova Scotia RCMP first warned of the issue in a tweet just after 7 a.m.

An emergency alert was issued in the province, telling people to call their local police, fire and EHS services in the event of an emergency.

The New Brunswick RCMP, as well as police departments in Miramichi, Fredericton and Saint John, were also experiencing technical issues with 911.

The Miramichi Police Force said calls from landlines were not going through, while calls from cell phones were.

The P.E.I. RCMP 911 system was also affected by the outage.

During the outage, police departments provided alternate phone numbers residents could call.

Bell Aliant confirmed it was working to restore 911 service around 8:30 a.m.

About 20 minutes later, the company said that service was restored for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“The root cause was a software update introduced at approximately 6 a.m. in preparation for 10-digit dialling for New Brunswick, which triggered unexpected call processing failures to 911. All other types of calls were unaffected,” said Katie Hatfield, a senior manager of communications at Bell Aliant.

“Once we realized the issue, we worked to roll back the update to restore services as quickly as possible. We have adjusted our processes and safeguards to ensure that this type of issue will not happen again, including adjusting our test plans for future updates.”

Hatfield characterized the issue as “an isolated incident.”

Nova Scotia’s minister responsible for the Emergency Management Office (EMO), John Lohr, and the executive director of the Nova Scotia EMO, Paul Mason, took questions from journalists Tuesday afternoon.

“Today’s 911 outage was an event never before experienced in our province,” said Lohr.

Lohr said the province was first aware of the outage at about 7 a.m. and a provincial coordination system was activated. It took until about 8:08 a.m. for an emergency alert to go out.

“We knew 911 was down but it wasn’t down entirely across the province, so it took some time to determine where it was down. And 911 could still [be] reached through, I believe, some cell phone connections,” Lohr said.

Lohr said it took some time to determine where the outage was and to provide alternative emergency numbers and verify the phone numbers EMO gave out were working.

“Pooling together the provincial coordination centre, determining the scope of the problem and just double checking the numbers is what took that time,” Lohr said.

Lohr said the province is not aware of any incidents where someone needed to get through to 911 but couldn’t.

Mason pointed out how the interruption impacted customers in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I.

“The 911 switch, which calls are routed on, is primarily located in Fredericton with a backup facility in Moncton,” Mason said. “That’s why the three provinces were impacted.”

It’s unclear how many people used the alternative emergency numbers provided Tuesday.

Mason and Lohr said data such as this will be provided during a debrief. Lohr said the province does an immediate debrief with partners such as Bell Aliant and other provincial EMOs whenever there are incidents like this.


Late Tuesday afternoon, the same alert about 911 disruption issued Tuesday morning went out on some television carriers, including Bell. 

Nova Scotia’s EMO confirmed there was no new disruption.

Provincial spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said no more alerts were issued since EMO advised Nova Scotians the 911 service had been restored shortly after 9 a.m.

Fairbairn said when an alert is issued, the message is pushed out to distributors such as television, cellular, etcetera.

“Any delays in receipt or broadcast of that message to their customers due to the particulars of their network and hardware configuration must be addressed by the particular provider experiencing the issue,” Fairbairn said.

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