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Thursday 16 June 2011

Hurricane Igor Part 2?

Assumptions must be made in order to problem solve and think fast during emergency situations. Not just blind assumptions, more like educated guesses. One of the things that people tend to assume is that when it comes to something as serious as an emergency response that 'someone' will have thought about that, and it will be taken care of appropriately. In the case of Hurricane Igor and the response in areas like the Bonavista Peninsula, that would have been an incorrect assumption.

Municipal Responsibility
All municipalities in the province are required to have an emergency management plan in place by May of 2012. So up until that time it is completely voluntary. Sure the Province suggested that communities have a plan in place but it will not be required until the middle of next year. Luckily many municipalities are ahead of the Province and have had plans in place for years, but some haven't. During Igor municipal fire departments and other volunteers were often the front line of defense and assistance and they need to be recognized for what they did. But I can't help but wonder if they could have been helped a little better if more municipalities had better, and more up to date plans? Did you assume they had a plan?

The Canadian Red Cross and the Salvation Army were both out front during the Igor response as well. They too are to be thanked. But again I recall some confusion over who was doing what, and where. Can't help but ask if these organizations communicate with municipalities and the Province to jointly prepare for this kind of thing? Did you assume they were doing that?

Provincial Efforts
We get some pretty serious storms and we have had a few moderate scale disasters but Igor was different because the area affected was so large. Pretty much everything West of Gander was hit in some way or another. This certainly added to the difficulty in responding appropriately, but so too did the lack of preparation. Over at The Packet they have a series of articles related to the response to Hurricane Igor including this editorial. The information they have collected seems to indicate that the response was not quite as effective as it should have been.

To be fair, hindsight is indeed 20/20, and I have no intention in faulting the people who were involved in the amazing efforts during Igor. However I have to ask the questions about our level of preparedness. I guess I assumed we were ready, didn't you? I assumed that there was a plan that identified specifically who would do what and when. And that each major region of the province had such a plan. That's not quite how it worked. There was certainly confusion over who was doing what, how much the province could/would help and when would they be willing to ask the Feds for help.

When we look at the Provincial ability to respond the first thing to notice is that we don't even have enough Provincial staff to respond to on the ground issues. We have Fire and Emergency Services staff (maybe 8 to 10 people) who are largely responsible for safety certifications and training. They are not first responders. Although I know that during Igor some of them went above and beyond to help people in need. But in terms of Provincial Staff that's pretty much it. Sure we have HRLE staff to help with getting food and supplies to people during the cleanup and the aftermath, but the largest section of information on emergency services available on the Provincial Government website is about damage claims and their processing. Important for sure, but not much help when the disaster is occurring. The role of the Province has to be to coordinate the local resources!

The Feds.
According to the information collected by The Packet there were Coast Guard and Military resources on offer as the rain was falling from Igor. Yet they were not engaged for about 3 days later. At the time there seemed to be an issue with the Province having to ask them for assistance. And if and when they were asked, the help came with a price tag. So perhaps the delay in the request was related to financial concerns. Personally I say go help people and we'll figure out the bill afterward. But I guess not everyone feels that way.

Round two?
So now a year has almost passed and we can look back at Igor and recognize that we took a good beating but I assume we'll be ready for round two right? Well......many towns still won't have an emergency plan, there are no regional emergency plans, the province hasn't acquired any new resources or passed any new regulations. There are resources available, but we just aren't doing a very good job of organizing and mobilizing them. The Province has to take the lead and ensure there are plans and resources available for Hurricane Igor Part 2. Because things are always bigger in the sequel, and this one could be coming soon to a community near you.

Update: CBC NL also has a story over here on some of the issues with the Igor response. That page also has some interesting links on the side to other related Igor coverage.

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