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AHS network outage has a local impact on Calgary 911 operations

AHS said that by mid-afternoon the outage had been rectified and services were being restored.

Calls to EMS dispatch from Calgary 911 were delayed between two- and four-minutes Monday during an Alberta Health Services (AHS) communications outage Monday, Calgary’s 911 deputy chief said.  

AHS experienced a “network outage,” early Monday which officials said affected everything from Alberta’s 811 system to hospital records management to the 911 call answering service.

A third-party review will now be undertaken to determine the cause of the Alberta-wide outage.

“It’s all hands on deck. We realize that this is an unusual, unique event. As far as I’m understanding, it’s never happened quite like this before,” said AHS administrator, Dr. John Cowell, during a media conference on orthopaedic surgeries, earlier in the day.  

“So, we need to figure this out fast and make darn sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.”

Cowell said that it impacted the 811 Health Link and clinical support – Connect Care – and computer systems in hospitals were down.

Dr. Sid Viner, vice-president and medical director for clinical operations at AHS, confirmed that hospitals were resorting to paper records and whiteboarding cases with the records management system down.

By mid-afternoon, AHS said that 811 Health Link was back to full capacity. They said the outage was resolved and services were being restored.

They said there was no indication the system’s failure was due to a cyber-attack.

Impact on local emergency services

Glenda Sahlen, Deputy Chief of Calgary 911, said that they were having challenges reaching EMS dispatch from their call centre Monday.

Call pick-up delays of between two and three minutes were being recorded during the outage, she said. Sahlen couldn’t quantify the call volume during they received during the outage. AHS confirmed the network outage did result in small delays in transferring 911 calls from the 911 answering service to AHS “for a very short period of time.”

AHS said they enacted backup and downtime procedures and delays only existed for a short time. They said they weren’t aware of any calls that were dropped or lost during the outage.

Sahlen said that initially they brought AHS on to their redundancy mutual aid radio backup system. Then, she said AHS switched that to calls to EMS dispatch via their call takers personal cell phones.

AHS did not confirm this. They said any calls on a backup system are recorded.

Sahlen said the Calgary Fire Department stepped in early to offer help, as did both police and fire dispatch.  She said she wasn’t aware of any impact on patient care in Calgary. With that said, Sahlen believed that with co-located EMS dispatch, this wouldn’t have been an issue. 

System redundancies built into the Emergency Response Plan they have at Calgary 911 would have covered any potential outage immediately, she said.    

“We wouldn’t have had the communications challenges that we had if AHS medical dispatch had been in the same building,” Sahlen said.

AHS said that any surgeries that were cancelled as a result of the outage will be rebooked.