Planning should happen before there is an emergency

This week’s power outage on Manitoulin following a fire at a mobile transformer station in Manitowaning highlighted an alarming shortfall in the level of some communities’ emergency preparedness—and the generous spirit of communities in their willingness to look to the wellbeing of their neighbours.

Our modern society has become highly dependant on the electrical grid, and never more so than in the depths of winter, whether directly for heating or indirectly to power oil or propane forced air or boiler heating systems. When the electricity grid fails and the flow of power is interrupted for any significant length of time, real tragedies can easily come to pass—particularly with the aged or those who have very young children.

Emergency planning is a central tenant of municipal government and a responsibility that citizens could fairly expect is well in hand, given the number of emergency planning meetings and plans that have been created over the last several years. But that has not proven to be the case for some municipalities.

The Expositor was contacted by local police agencies seeking information about warming stations and emergency shelters that could accommodate citizens in distress during the Sunday power outage. Expositor staff had in fact been proactively seeking out just that information to be posted on our various online sites and social media outlets as a community service, but given the severity of the hydro outage, which was established fairly early on in the event, the lack of a proactive response by some municipalities is a matter for some concern.

Certainly as a rural area, with many residents who heat with wood and so were not terribly inconvenienced by the outage, there still remains a significant number of people whose heating systems require electricity to provide heat to their homes. Even in the best insulated of homes, temperatures can drop fairly significantly when such an event happens.

Kudos go out to those municipalities who do have an emergency plan in place, and who chose to activate it in a timely fashion to ensure the wellbeing of their vulnerable residents. But rather than castigate those who do not, or who failed to engage their plans in the face of what had been determined would be a lengthy outage, let us instead call upon those municipal councils  to take this incident to heart and take steps to ensure that their staff put in place the protocols to deal with such a situation in a manner that is not so ad hoc as appears to have been the case in this instance.

Further, communication clearly needs to be improved between municipalities and the emergency services. There is also a clear need for a vulnerable persons registry such as that being envisioned by the UCCM Anishinaabe Police Services for the communities they serve. Such a registry should be in place in all communities so that members of the emergency services, such as police, fire and EMS workers can proactively seek out such vulnerable citizens in the case of emergency. We should not be dependant on people concerned about their loved ones having to contact the police during an emergency event—we should be prepared for it before it comes to pass.

This past Sunday’s power outage can serve as a clarion call to action for municipalities and the emergency services to come together to implement an emergency plan that not only clearly establishes lines of communication and actions to be taken in the case of an emergency. Yes, we have weathered this event without apparent incident, but we should take the opportunity to pay heed to what it has revealed to us.

We do not have to look that far back in the history of this province, or that of our neighbours, to find instances of severe emergencies that could result in large numbers of casualties and tragedy. The ice storm of 1998 easily springs to mind. With the advent of climate change and the increased incidents of severe weather events that it is clearly established will come with it, it is not a question of if, but rather when we will once again face such a trial. We do not want to be flying by the seat of our pants when it does.