by Pauline Kerr
So much for the vaunted cashless society.
The recent Rogers system crash – apparently another network upgrade that got messed up, the second in two years – interrupted more than phone service and television. Signs went up on gas pumps and store windows right across the country: cash only. Some places could process credit cards, while other businesses were unable to process any credit or debit transactions for a day or more. Cash was the safest bet for anyone wanting to pay a bill or make a purchase.
Apologies are still being made for the disruption, and the Canadian government (actually Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications) is looking into what happened, and ways of preventing it from happening again.
One plan involves requiring the different telecommunications companies to back up each other in case of another systems crash. This acknowledges that for some people, a cell phone is more than a device with which to take selfies to post on social media. For some, that cell phone is a lifeline – for example, someone awaiting a call about important medical tests, or to hear news about the birth of a first grandchild. The ability to contact emergency services via 911 can literally spell the difference between life and death.
The catch phrase for what the CRTC has in mind is “building resilience into the system” through backups, and redundancies.
While this makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to accessing 911 emergency service, one has to wonder if it is only the system that requires greater resilience. What about the users?
The lessons learned during the great blackout of 2003 appear to have been forgotten – lessons like not running the car with a next-to-empty gas tank.
Another involved stocking items to keep television-dependent kids from climbing the walls should there be a power failure – colouring books and crayons, puzzles and perhaps a deck of cards.
The big lesson was the importance of having a bit of cash in the emergency kit, preferably bills in small denominations. Even when the electricity is out, which has been known to happen in storms around here, cash works.
Admittedly, it is difficult to set aside a dozen toonies for a rainy day, with the kids begging for money to buy freezies and a million and one other things. More of us than would probably admit it have checked clothing pockets and under the couch cushions for lunch money the day before payday. However, the folks who had those dozen toonies in the emergency box got their drive-through coffee and enough gas to get to work the day the Rogers system crashed.
Resilience means more than rolling with the punches. It means thinking ahead and doing a bit of planning. This is not the same thing as building a bunker behind the tool shed and stocking it with enough firearms and military rations to see the family past the zombie apocalypse or any other worst-case scenario. All it means is making sure there is a manual can opener in the emergency box of tinned food, and the flashlight has functional batteries in it.
The idea is that it takes about three days to mobilize a major rescue effort when disaster strikes. People who can look after themselves for those three days are freeing up emergency responders to look after people in urgent need of help.
For every large-scale emergency that occurs, there are a dozen smaller ones such as a localized power failure, and a hundred minor glitches including a bank card that comes out of the wash-and-dry cycle looking like a Ruffles potato chip. Resilience and a bit of cash can get us past most of them. The cashless society has not yet arrived, thank heaven.
That said, the Rogers crash did draw attention to one key need that has nothing to do with cash. There has to be a way to access the 911 system when cell phones are down. Unlike cash, public pay phones really are a thing of the past.