Public Service

How the federal government fell down during the earthquake

Remember the earthquake in the Ottawa area last June? Remember how the earthquakes website run by Natural Resources Canada promptly imploded when everyone tried to get information on the quake at once? I mentioned that I sent a stiff letter to the Minister of Natural Resources to complain about it. I did get a reply dated July 28 from the assistant deputy minister responsible, who assured me that steps were being taken to address the issue, which is precisely the sort of answer I expected (being, as you know, familiar with the ways of ministerial correspondence).

I was far from the only one to notice the website issue: a Canadian Press story in August, using documents obtained under an ATIP request, outlined what the hell happened to the server. But according to Tom Spears’s article in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen, the problems went beyond insufficient website bandwidth. Not only were the website and phone lines down, but the chain of command effectively prevented anyone with any expertise from talking for hours. The comedy of errors surrounding a conference call should be all too familiar to anyone who works with words for the federal government.

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