The Federal Government is investigating a Telstra triple-0 outage in the early hours of Friday, which the telco claimed was caused by a suspected lightning strike to a cable pit near NSW’s Orange and servers failing to re-route calls.
Emergency calls went unanswered in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, causing fear and disruption.
One woman was forced to leave her husband in their burning house in Sydney’s Redfern and drive to the nearest fire station after an electric blanket caught fire and calls to triple-0 failed to connect. Mary Ann Gongon’s husband Apollo Karanges suffered burns to 40 per cent of his body, according to a report in News Corp. They have received an apology from Telstra CEO Andy Penn and an offer of help with temporary accommodation.
Telstra’s initial investigations suggested a "key piece of equipment did not respond as intended" and calls were not re-routed, a company spokesman said.
The damaged cable is one of the telco’s three major links nationally and was cut at around 2am.
In addition to intermittent interruptions to emergency calls, hundreds of traffic lights in Victoria were also affected.
"All of our evidence suggests it is a lightning strike," Telstra’s Penn said on Friday.
"There is physical damage and fire damage to the particular pit where the actual cable is, but obviously we can't prove that. Really our focus has been on making sure we can restore the services as quickly as possible. To the best of my knowledge, the service is fully restored. We had a particular set of circumstances here which has affected some services and for that I deeply apologise."
But according to the Bureau of Meteorology, there were no lightning strikes in the location at the time.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive Teresa Corbin voiced concern about the system failure.
"I'm surprised because the reality is that Telstra has in place built-in network redundancy which means alternative rerouting should happen," Corbin said.
Telstra's group managing director of networks Mike Wright conceded some servers had failed to respond as programmed.
"The network, of course, is designed to recover from these events by switching to alternate routes and it did for the majority of customers," Wright said.
"But what we did see is that some servers didn't switch over as planned and the main one impacted was triple-0.
NSW Police advised people in an emergency to call triple-0 first and if unable to connect try the Police Assistance Line. Ambulance Victoria advised people to keep trying triple-0 if they couldn’t get through. The Queensland Ambulance Service identified 11 patients who had experienced a delay in getting through to its operations centres by reviewing call logs; of those affected patients, none suffered adverse impact to their care.
A spokesman for the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield confirmed the department will conduct a probe into the outage.
"The Department of Communications is conducting the investigation into the network outage which impacted the delivery of calls to triple zero on the 4th of May," the spokesman said in a statement.
"The Department will seek information from Telstra and assistance from the [Australian Communications and Media Authority] in the conduct of the investigation."