The fragility of 21st century island services has been highlighted today (Thursday 20 October) as the whole of Shetland lost its internet connection with the outside world.
Police Scotland have declared a major incident, with Stornoway-based Chief Inspector Jane Mackenzie live on BBC Radio Scotland this morning to update the public.
She said that police officers would be more visible on the island and added: "We're still trying to work to establish the full extent of the problem - we know there are some telephone lines working, 999 lines are believed to be working and some mobile networks are still working.”
Shetlanders are being asked to stay off their phones to leave capacity for emergency communication, and to flag down emergency workers on patrol, or to call in at hospitals, police, fire and ambulance stations if they can’t reach anyone by phone in an emergency.
Today’s full outage has been caused after a second break in undersea internet cables. Faroese Telecom engineers had already started work to repair a break in Shetland’s internet link with the Faroe islands and that work is expected to be completed on Saturday.
Now a second break has been inflicted overnight in the cable linking Shetland with Orkney, and from there on to the mainland. A Faroese Telecom spokesman said it was likely that fishing vessels had damaged both cables.
Police Scotland said phones, internet and computers in Shetland were not usable, mobile networks are down in places and cash machines are not working.
Landline services, including most 999 numbers, are, however, still working.
The Shetland Times is reporting that telecoms engineers say it could be ‘days’ before the service is restored.
They explained that Shetland is connected with the mainland via the SHEFA2 cable, which runs from Tórshavn in Faroe to Shetland and onwards to Orkney. From Orkney it runs to Banff in Aberdeenshire.
Responding to the cutting of the subsea cable connecting Shetland to mainland Scotland, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland Beatrice Wishart said:
“I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to all the engineers and emergency services who have stepped up so quickly to try and resolve this disruption and reassure residents.
“My constituents are understandably concerned by the news this morning. There is an extremely limited telephone and broadband service, which has huge repercussions for families and businesses across the islands.
“I am in limited contact with the Scottish Government to keep me updated on what can be done to resolve the incident as swiftly as possible.
“This kind of disruption points to the fundamental vulnerability of our current island infrastructure. We need long-term changes to create a resilient service that can guarantee residents connectivity, reliability and safety.”