Last Thursday, sometime early in the morning the Anik F2 satellite decided it needed a little more sun. The Anik F2, a behemoth communications satellite parked in orbit above North America, oriented itself towards the Sun, rather than down here towards northern Canada. And for the better part of the day it gave us a glimpse into just how much we rely on technology up here these days.
My first glimpse into the failure came after I pulled myself out of bed and wandered to the office to check the email. It quickly became apparent that email and the internet weren't working. So after going through all the motions of resetting the modem, and my router without success, I went back to my day, giving up on my morning internet fix.
By the time I got to work a couple of hours later, the internet was still down, and I thought nothing more of it, until a call from our ISP. Not only was the internet down but there was no long distances service. It had been blowing a gale here that night and I assumed that that was why we were having problems. But it turned out that it wasn't just Arctic Bay's phones and internet that were down but all of Nunavut's and much of the North's.
Now on the face of things you might think that it was no big deal, but it could have been. But the satellite services that drive our long distance and internet drive ALL of our communications up here. We had no way of communicating with the rest of the world, and had it been down for days rather than the 18 hours or so it could have had serious consequences. Even in the 18 hours it was down with a little bad luck it could have.
No weather information was getting out from any of the airports and they cancelled all non-emergency flights. But, and this is a pretty big but, had there been an emergency there would have been no way of calling for it. Satellite phones were also down apparently. Television, and the systems they run on, however, were not done. Much of the information that got out, and got to communities, including communications by RCMP HQ to the detachments, was done through CBC. Thank god for the CBC.
We have excellent staff at our Health Centre, but there are always cases that need to be sent down to Iqaluit or Ottawa. No doctors staff the Health Centre, they come up for regular visits. Our nurses could give many doctors a good run for their money, but the fact remains that a serious medical emergency while the satellite was out of commission could have had serious consequences.
There were other problems that I have to say I never thought would crop up. Like much of the world we are largely a cashless society now. I mean there is still a lot of cash that changes hands up here, but most/many people use debit cards, and an in store card system. With the satellite down, well none of that, or credit cards worked at the store. We had enough cash on hand to buy groceries for a day, but beyond that we would have had to rely on the good graces of the stores to keep the commerce going, and our bellies full.
I commented several times that all we were missing was a major power failure and this would have been the manifestation of good old Y2K. But like I said back then there are few places better equipped for a total shut down of modern technology. I live in a place were many families have the skills and abilities to live like they did in old days. There are many up here who, up 'til the late sixties/early seventies, lived essentially the same way people did 5,000 years ago in the Arctic. And it is comforting to know that we would survive, if circumstances returned us to those days.