A mystery surrounding failed 911 calls made during a house fire deepened on Tuesday when Telus reported finding no technical problems with its network.
“They can find no technical issues in the Telus network at this time,” said Shawn Hall, a Telus spokesman. “So the calls were going through on the network.”
Shanna Little and her neighbours frantically dialed 911 as her house burned on Saturday, yet all they got was a recorded message saying all circuits were busy.
In desperation, Little sat in the middle of her street and shouted, “Someone give me a confirmation you got a call in,” but no one could, at least not in the first few critical minutes.
The problem has raised alarm bells with the RCMP, City, Operational Communications Centre (OCC) in Kelowna and Telus, all of which began investigating the problem on Monday.
Initial indications were that the problem was not with the 911 service itself.
Fire chief Neill Moroz reported that no problem could be found with the initial contact with OCC or its subsequent connection with Firehall No. 1. However, those phone records couldn’t account for the 10-minute lapse in service, the failed calls.
“We’re not seeing any activity in the 10 minutes leading up to (the first 911 connection),” Hall said. “That said, not all the numbers were on our network.”
The Telus investigation did not include calls made through its competitor, Shaw, on landlines.
Moroz hopes other people who tried unsuccessfully to make 911 calls on Saturday morning to report the fire come forward to provide their numbers as well by calling him at 250-571-2961.
Telus is also continuing its review.
“We’re looking further now at all possibilities,” Hall said. “There seems to have been so many calls coming in that the 911 centre was inundated,” he said, speculating further. “All operators were busy and they weren’t able to pick up.”
Yet that explanation appeared to have been eliminated on Monday, when an initial review by the Kelowna-based 911 Operational Communications Centre found the system was not overloaded.
Hall said Telus has to probe further to determine why, for 10 minutes, no one seemed to be able to connect to 911.
“Nothing is more important to us than 911,” he said. “We have a dedicated team that does nothing but 911 and build a lot of redundancies into the network. We’ll continue to work with our partners on this.”
The incident was raised in Tuesday’s City council meeting, as Coun. Marg Spina said she’s had people ask what they should do if they can’t get 911.
“What can they do to protect themselves?” she asked.
Moroz, who attended the council meeting, said the process is to dial 911. People shouldn’t call the fire halls directly, because there might not be staff answering. Instead, they should hang up and dial 911 again, he said.
“There’s no other system if that fails.”
Eventually, 19 calls about the house fire did get through to 911, he said. Firefighters arrived in four minutes and four seconds of getting dispatched.
"This is such a rarity we have a problem with 911 service. We can't find anything that went wrong."
Mayor Peter Milobar pointed out that before the city panics, residents need to realize 911 handles thousands of calls from Kamloops every year. With the exception of this one situation, the City has no record of 911 calls not getting through, he said.
That said, he hoped something in the system would be found to pinpoint what caused Saturday’s problem so it could be resolved.
Cary Berger, police services manager with the Regional District of Central Okanagan, which oversees the 911 centre, said she is still gathering input from the parties involved in an attempt to solve the mystery.
“This is something new right now for me,” she said.