Shaw makes changes after Alberta-wide system outage

Top officials at Shaw Communications are once again apologizing to Albertans and affected customers after an electrical explosion and fire caused a system outage at their downtown Calgary headquarters July 11.

RAW Shaw interview

11 years ago
Duration 13:25
Top Shaw officials explain what they know of the fire and explosion that caused a system outage.

Top officials at Shaw Communications are once again apologizing to Albertans and affected customers after an electrical explosion and fire caused a system outage at their downtown Calgary headquarters July 11.

"The incident itself, the extent of the fire, is what actually resulted in the generators kicking in, but because the fire created a molten mass of cables, the generators turned themselves off as a safety precaution because they can’t operate into a short circuit," said Shaw president Peter Bissonnette.

The power generators were located on the floor above the substation that exploded.

Listen to the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One at 7:10 a.m. Wednesday for more from Shaw president Peter Bissonnette.

Shaw executives say a different location wouldn't have made a difference, because of the nature of the electrical fire.

"It also destroyed some distribution cables and as a result, even if the generators had been two blocks away, as soon as they would see a short, they would turn off," he said.

Effects felt across Alberta

While the outage had disabled a number of computer networks — including key municipal and provincial services — all government services are up and running again.

But the outage had wide-ranging repercussions for the government as the province's electronic health network went down and hundreds of elective surgeries had to be rescheduled.

The minister of Services Alberta raised questions Monday about Shaw's back-up systems and disaster planning.

"Was everything done the way it should have been?" said Manmeet Bhullar.

"Why did back-up generators go out? Were the generators located in the right location in the building?"

While Shaw is sorry for the inconvenience the outage caused, it says it's not responsible for backing up government data and suggest the outage is somewhat "politicized."

"We've said this is not about pointing fingers and blame," said Bissonnette.

"This is about restoration, minimizing impact on our customers and their customers and moving forward."

Lessons to be learned

Shaw says it's looking at beefing up its back-up systems and moving some operations, including 900 employees, from its centre downtown to other buildings for a couple of months.

Registry offices were busy Tuesday as motor registry and land title searches were once again available. Some offices even doubled their staff for the day to deal with lineups.

"I was willing to wait a couple of days to get my licence, but some people just lose their patience and phone up and get mad at people and I don't like that," said Frank Bussieres who was in line at a registry office.

Because of the outages, drivers with licences that expired on July 1 were given an extension, which remains in place until the end of the month.

But the outage still leaves many with questions.

"It's ridiculous that they do not have a better plan than they have right now — they have all their eggs in one basket," said Roy Allen, who also had to line up at a registry Tuesday. "You know, the whole thing was controlled by one location."

Shaw and the province have launched several investigations, including one from Alberta's information and privacy commissioner to see how the outage affected a number of computer systems holding Albertans' personal, health and financial information.