Perth is Prepared... Are You?
The town of Perth was spared the devastating destruction of the 1998 Ice Storm that damaged many surrounding communities. However, significant damage to Stewart Park and the heavily treed properties around town required an investment of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours to clean up and remove debris. Aside from a power outage that lasted three days, Perth recovered from the storm in a relatively short amount of time. Citizens were thankful their town was back to normal very speedily, but they were also aware that a more dangerous scenario could have easily played out.
Eleven years after the Ice Storm, damage to trees in and around the town has been repaired by nature’s course. The ice storm itself is a distant memory and Perth’s beauty has been restored. But, aware we are that the sky could fall again in the guise of potential emergencies: a water emergency, a black out, a train derailment, a major highway accident or another ice storm. The municipality remains vigilant.
Within Canada, municipal is the most visible, accessible and responsive level of government to its citizens. In Ontario, it is the responsibility of municipal government to take the lead when an emergency occurs. They may subsequently be supported by the county, province and federal governments, depending on the need. It is incumbent upon municipalities to safeguard their own critical infrastructure. In Perth, this includes the vital services such as water and sewer, garbage and sanitation, roads and bridges, police and fire services, as well as its governance and municipal administration. In the advent of a municipal emergency (flood, hazardous goods spill, natural disasters, power failure, etc.), it is essential to maintain these services in order to keep the town running as smoothly as possible during, and following, the emergency. It must also rely on other infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and communication facilities. If neighbouring areas are affected by an emergency and an evacuation is necessary, the municipality must be prepared to accommodate an undetermined number of neighbouring evacuees. If the town’s roads and bridges are not operational, emergency vehicles will not get through and evacuation to or from Perth cannot take place.
Perth’s New Emergency Plan
Perth’s previous emergency plan was established under the province of Ontario’s Emergency Measures Act in which it was stated municipalities “may” develop their own Emergency Plan. In response to the ice storm of 1998 and other major events, the province of Ontario amended the Act in 2003 to become more prescriptive. Municipalities now “shall” have an Emergency Program. Regulations were added to the Act in 2004, and was revised once again in 2006 to become the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (for more info, visit www.e-laws.gov.on.ca).
In compliance with this new act, Perth, like all municipalities in Ontario, is required to have a designated Community Emergency Management Coordinator (CEMC) on staff, an Emergency Management Program Committee (EMPC), a Community Control Group, and an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC – both primary and alternate). Annually, it must conduct training and an exercise. To develop an effective, viable emergency plan within the emergency management program, it is the responsibility of the EMPC to conduct a Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) in order to identify the potential risks most detrimental to their community.
These risks are then plotted on a graph based on probability and consequence. Probability is based on the historical occurrence of the risk, such as: no history in the last 15 years; five to 15 years since last incident; or multiple/recurring incidents in the last five years.
Consequence is determined by the impact on public and property, for example: negligible; limited (injuries, minor or localized damage); substantial (widespread injuries; severe damage and temporary disruption of basic services); or high (fatalities, disruption of essential services, and long term disruption of basic services).
Once hazards are identified, plans are developed to mitigate each one, beginning with the most probable.
Fixing ice storm damage in 2003.
The Community Control Group (CCG) is made up of the municipality’s Mayor, the CAO, the Chair of the EMC, various department heads and representatives of emergency services, and community organizations. Each member has a defined role to perform. Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act all members of the CCG and supporting staff must participate in annual training and an exercise to ensure they are prepared for a potential emergency.
The municipality must also take into account current trends and threats such as climate change (floods, power outages), possible acts of terrorism, and possible new hazards. Continuous planning remains at the forefront to ensure the health and safety of public and to be ready should a municipal emergency arise.
The differences between a personal emergency and a municipal emergency should be understood.
A personal emergency could, for example, be a house fire, flooded basement, a fall at home resulting in injury, a car accident, or other calamity impacting an individual and/or members of their household. In these instances, a 9-1-1 call will result in help from the appropriate service: fire department, paramedics, or police.
A municipal emergency, on the other hand, has the potential to impact a large segment of the population. It can pose a threat to infrastructure that the municipality is safeguarding and potentially impede business continuity in both the private and public sectors.
It is important to note that many not-for-profit institutions and non-government organizations also deliver vital services. Municipalities are heavily dependant upon such private organizations to deliver products and services, particularly during emergencies. They should also have business continuity plans in place.
Emergencies can happen at any time, and utilities, roads and crucial supplies can suddenly become unavailable. Individuals must be prepared to survive on their own for at least 72 hours (three days), at home and at work, while the municipality attends to the emergency and the protection of critical municipal infrastructure.
A 72-Hour Emergency Kit can easily be put together and kept at home and at work. While many of the items are common sense (non-perishable food items and water for family members, pets and staff) other items may not come to mind as easily. The kit(s) should also contain cash (as bank machines may be disabled), personal identification, medications, and contact phone numbers. Full details on suggested kit contents and emergency plans can be found at www.ontario.ca/emo. Citizens of Perth are informed periodically by mail to be aware of the Emergency Response Plan that is available on our web-site, www.perthcanada.com.
Parents should also be aware of the emergency plan at their child’s school and instruct their child accordingly. At work, in the event of a major emergency, employees should know what will be expected of them and how the employer will work with them.
Perth has developed an emergency management program to safeguard its citizens. Keeping the public apprised of updates and factual information prior to, during and following the emergency is also part of Perth’s emergency management program. Different media (radio, TV, internet, and others) will be used to communicate with the public during an event. Perth is doing its part to be prepared, are you? Can we help?
Lauren Walton is Clerk and CEMC for the Town of Perth. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
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