Telecom Outages Exacerbate Wildfire Crisis in Maui and Canada

As wind-driven wildfires ravaged the Hawaiian island of Maui last summer, a telecommunications blackout worsened the crisis, leaving many residents uninformed and hindering emergency response efforts. The town of Lahaina, with a population of around 13,000, faced evacuation challenges and communication breakdowns due to the outage. The incident highlighted the critical need for resilient telecom networks during disasters, with lessons being drawn from the Maui wildfires.

In Canada, recent wildfire damage to fibre lines near Fort Nelson, B.C. led to days-long cellular and internet outages in the northern provinces and territories. This event underscored the vulnerabilities faced by rural and remote areas during natural disasters. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is actively addressing the issue through ongoing consultations aimed at improving telecom services in such regions and enhancing reporting mechanisms for major service outages.

Major telecom providers in Canada, including Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc., and Telus Corp., have robust plans in place to mitigate the impact of wildfires on their infrastructure. These strategies include year-round network stability reviews, backup power sources, and collaboration with emergency management teams. Innovative initiatives, such as the deployment of artificial intelligence cameras by Rogers in partnership with the BC Wildfire Service, aim to enhance early detection and response to wildfire threats.

Satellite connectivity is being explored as a potential solution to maintain communication during emergencies, particularly in remote areas. Telus successfully trialled satellite technology for voice calls and text messages, while other providers are also investing in satellite internet services. Despite advancements in network resilience, gaps persist in preparing the telecom sector for wildfire-induced outages, especially in rural and remote regions with limited infrastructure.