Calgary 911 service affected by small downtown fire

The City of Calgary has activated the Municipal Emergency Plan after a small explosion and fire at the Shaw building downtown affected some telecommunications infrastructure, including 911 service.

No word on when service will be restored

A small fire at the Shaw building downtown has damaged infrastructure and affected internet service for many in the city, including emergency services. (Submitted by Michael Welter)

The City of Calgary has activated the Municipal Emergency Plan after a small explosion and fire at the Shaw building downtown affected some telecommunications infrastructure, including 911 service.

Some businesses and agencies using Shaw as their internet provider are experiencing outages, including Calgary's Emergency Medical Services.

As of 3:45 p.m. MT, the City of Calgary is warning that 30,000 Shaw landline customers downtown may not have access to 911 — soon after, the government of Alberta issued an emergency alert addressing the same issue.

People are being asked to call in using cellphones, but officials warn that some cellphone carriers may be affected by intermittent outages.

The city says there are no known instances of anyone failing to get a 911 response so far.

The Shaw building, located at Sixth Street and Third Avenue S.W., was evacuated just after 2 p.m. The area is closed off while emergency crews investigate. 

Electrical explosion sparks fire

Calgary Fire Department spokesman Jayson Doyscher said there was a small explosion on the 13th floor in an electric room. No one was hurt, but there is some electrical and water damage.

EMS spokesperson Naomi Nania said that ambulance computers are down and paramedics are taking patients to the closest hospital.

"Our Repac system is down, which is a system that we use to tell us which hospital to go to. So as of right now, all crews are told to go to the closest hospital," said Nania.

The municipal plan calls for an emergency operations centre to be staffed and for decisions to be made from there.

"[It’s meant to] provide for prompt co-ordination of the city’s resources when consequences of an identified emergency, disaster, or catastrophe and subsequent recovery are outside the scope of normal operations," according to a line from the emergency document.

Outage affects national, provincial and local companies

Calgary director of emergency management and fire Chief Bruce Burrell said the building is a "key hub" for national, provincial and municipal networking infrastructure.

"We are trying to figure out the scope and magnitude of the problem," he said.

A standby generator at the Shaw building is supplying power to run tests and help identify the extent of damage. The building was designed with network backups, but the explosion damaged those systems as well.

Other than the standby generator, there is currently no power in the building, which is affecting Shaw building tenants — including IBM — and other businesses whose data and systems are powered by Shaw.

The city's 311 information line is down. A temporary line has been set up for priority 311 requests at 403-695-3255.

Calgary Transit is experiencing phone outages. The city says it has some telecommunication backups in place, but not for everything because of the cost.

Burrell said only Shaw phone customers are affected by the 911 outage, which is not the city's responsibility.

Hospital computers affected

Radio stations broadcasting out of the Shaw building, Q107, QR77 and Country 105, went off the air Wednesday afternoon.

The Calgary Parking Authority and Calgary Fire Department are also experiencing problems, as well as ATB Financial online banking.

There are reports of cab services for one of Calgary's biggest companies — Checker Yellow Cabs — also being affected.

Bell is also having issues, since the telecommunications company uses Shaw.

Parts of the province’s computer systems are offline, including those belonging to Alberta Justice and Alberta Health Services.

"It doesn't impact patient care, so ... anyone that is being admitted — it's the old fashioned way — they are doing everything by paper right now," said Burrell.

But that could change Thursday as there is a slight chance some surgeries may be affected.

"We expect to move tomorrow as we usually do," said Dr. Francois Belanger, Calgary zone medical director. "Obviously we're re-evaluating the situation on an hourly basis and we'll take a really good look tomorrow, but at this point ... we do not plan to postpone any surgeries or procedures."

There is no word on when service will be restored.  

"It could be hours, it could be longer than that," said Burrell.