911 wants back-up system

In the aftermath of last week’s disruption of 911 services due to an equipment failure at Cable & Wireless, the Emergency Communications Centre is looking to employ a back-up system to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Juliette Gooding

911 Director Juliette Gooding. Photo: File

911 Director Juliette Gooding met with the Information and Communications Technology Authority last Thursday morning.

ICTA Managing Director Dave Archbold said the 911 service disruption, which happened last Tuesday, came up in the conversation.

‘We touched on what happened on Tuesday only because it happened,’ he said. ‘We really met to only talk about routine issues.’

Mr. Archbold explained that the ICTA is not in any way responsible for 911.

‘That falls under the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs,’ he said.

Mr. Archbold said Ms Gooding asked about the rules governing the way telecom licensees deliver 911 services.

Although the licensees are required to provide 911 service as stipulated in their licence agreement, the method they use to interconnect that service is up to them, Mr. Archbald said.

Two other licensees, Digicel and TeleCayman, have chosen to interconnect 911 through Cable & Wireless, so when Cable & Wireless lost 911 service, so did they.

The 911 centre already has systems in place to permit calls to move from one switch to another should one fail.

‘We also have back-up lines that are automatically used if there is a problem with the primary lines and again, this usually functions smoothly,’ Ms Gooding said.

But the system did not work last Tuesday, and the 911 centre had difficulty receiving calls from early in the morning until about mid-day. After the lines were restored, the day shift processed just 18 emergency calls.

‘Sometimes we receive as few as 10 calls, while other days, we may record as many as 50,’ she said. ‘And while it is a fact that circuits were congested, we did receive some calls, especially early in the day.’

Although it is difficult to know for sure, it appears there were no emergencies that occurred that morning that went unreported. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, which was also affected by the communications disruption, had a contingency plan it place, which worked well according to Assistant Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis.

Ms Gooding would like to ensure last Tuesday’s problems do not happen again.

‘We’re working with the telephone service providers to find a solution and avoid a recurrence, at least in anything less than a natural disaster situation,’ she said.

The 911 centre uses Cable & Wireless as its service provider, but Ms Gooding said it was considering using other service providers as a back-up system. The service providers would have to cooperate to implement a new back-up system.

‘I need to get them together and get this done,’ she said, adding that so far the service providers have been receptive.

‘I don’t have any of the companies saying they don’t want to do it.’

Ms Gooding said she wants to fast-track the back-up system and incorporate it simultaneously with a project to address a problem the 911 system has with PBX equipment.

‘The timeframe I have given myself is very short,’ she said, adding that she’d like to see the problem addressed in a matter of weeks.

Minister of Communications Arden McLean said at the Cabinet press briefing on Friday that his ministry recognized the nature of the problem.

‘With everything going through Cable & Wireless, we realize that is where the vulnerabilities are.’

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