Nova Scotia

Premier wants telecom reps to be part of province's emergency operations

It's time cellphone, internet and telephone providers join the province's emergency operations team during major storms like Hurricane Dorian, says Premier Stephen McNeil.

'We need to make sure that our partners are in the room so we get real information'

Premier Stephen McNeil believes telecommunication companies will be receptive to working more closely with the province before and after extreme weather events. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

It's time cellphone, internet and telephone providers join the province's emergency operations team during major storms like Hurricane Dorian, says Premier Stephen McNeil.

The storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of Nova Scotians and knocked out, or diminished, cellphone and internet service in many areas. 

While the storm raged, officials from Nova Scotia Power, the province and other organizations hunkered down in the Emergency Management Office command centre to figure out how to best recover from the storm. 

"Telecom companies weren't there," said McNeil, "We need them in the room."

"The issue of them not being in the room in my view slows down the ability of us to put them as part of the restoration project as we go forward."

McNeil said having representatives from the telecommunication companies in the command centre would help officials better plan repairs. 

"Having them in the room so that we can put their towers in the mix when we know they're damaged will go a long way," he said.   

The federal government says there are no requirements for the provision of auxiliary power sources for telecommunications companies. (CBC)

Three of the province's large telecommunications companies — Rogers, Telus and Eastlink — are reporting their systems are either fully restored or close to it. 

On Thursday, Bell sent an email to say all of its wireless sites are now in service.

Cell phone towers operate by using electricity from Nova Scotia Power. When that power is interrupted the towers switch to a battery backup, according to Eastlink. 

Those batteries can last for about 12 hours. Once drained, the towers won't work.

The prolonged power outages eventually led to gaps in cellphone service until crews either brought in generators or power was restored.

The federal government says there are no regulations that require cellphone companies to equip their towers with auxiliary power sources.     

"We believe it's an important part of our infrastructure and that's why we need to make sure that our partners are in the room so we get real information around their infrastructure damage," said McNeil.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill wants telecoms to be better prepared for emergencies. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said cell phone companies should be forced to better prepare for emergencies and its time for federal and provincial governments to act.

"There needs to be new standards about telecommunications services," he said. "There need to be new protocols about disruptions of services. And I think it would also be appropriate for the premier to insist to the telecommunications companies that there'd be rebates made to customers who have not had service at a time when they've needed it."

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With files from Jean Laroche and Paul Withers

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