Sound Leadership Breeds Civility, & Civility Saves Lives

Jul 15, 2011

On 15 November 2006, headlines read “Small tsunami waves hit Northern Japan after earthquake.” Not five years later, on 11 March 2011, the world received news of another earthquake in that same area. The 2011 T–ohoku earthquake was the most powerful known earthquake to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world overall since modern record-keeping began in 1900. It ravaged the Fukushima nuclear plant, shifted the earth on its axis, and destroyed the livelihood of so many Japanese citizens that one wonders how they will recover. Nevertheless, the world watched as the resolute citizenry, in what can only be described as absolute civic discipline, went about the difficult tasks of grieving, life saving, repair and recovery. It was irritating for me to listen to some of our commentators criticize the Japanese preparedness and actions, not knowing what our own were and remain.

I was soon to see some fine examples of response capabilities here in Canada. Admittedly, these were certainly not on the scale of devastation with which Mother Nature lashed Japan, but they did prove heartening in their civility and are very much worth saluting.

First, the Town of Souris (approximately 1,770 people), south west of Brandon Manitoba, had been battling flooding banks for two and a half months when Mayor Darryl Jackson was forced to declare a state of emergency. Known for Canada’s longest historic suspension bridge, this too had fallen victim to the rising waters. The town’s 65 workers and 250 volunteers have been assisted by the province and some 375 soldiers in these latter days. This is deemed by some be the greatest flood ever in the region – nearly three months of wet weather and flooding for these families. The regional Health Authority was forced to suspend acute care services at the Souris Hospital. The population has been kept apprised of events throughout by Sven Kreush and his Emergency management staff on both local radio and the town web site. On the 5th of July, as the river was expected to peak and protection had reached its highest, Mayor Jackson posted the following on the Town web site: “The Mayor and Council of the Town of Souris are extremely pleased with the co-operation and effort of all involved including Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, Emergency Measures Organization, Office of Fire Commissioner, the Forces from CFB Shilo, Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Telecom Services, Manitoba Conservation, Manitoba Water Stewardship, Manitoba Workplace Health and Safety, RCMP, and all the Volunteers from near and far.”

Some 40 kms away, on the Assiniboine River, lies the city of Brandon, the second largest city in Manitoba at 44,000 people. Mayor Shari Decter Hirst posted this message on their web site: “Brandon has been through an incredible experience. Our city was tested as never before. The Assiniboine River rose to its highest levels in 300 years and we rose to the challenge. On behalf of the entire community, I’d like to thank the thousands of volunteers, City staff, Manitoba Highways staff, 26th Field reservists, the inmates at BCI, the staff at Cannexus and Manitoba Hydro, the City hotels, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the Chamber of Commerce. Together we kept our city safe and dry. Well done. You were an inspiration to us all. The City of Brandon now turns its attention to rebuilding our dike system so that it benefits the community throughout the year [...] Our riverbank corridor is the pride of our city and will be restored.”

Maire Gilles Dolbec, of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, 20 minutes from Montreal, saw his beautiful city of 92,350 ravaged by flooding as well. He was enthusiastic to report that it was “the solidarity of all citizens in helping those affected by the water damage, some 100 families without homes from a week to a month, that I remember best of this spring 2011 natural disaster.” He wanted to ensure that we mentioned the work of Michel Fecteau, who coordinated thousands of volunteers with all types of tasks from the usual filling sand bags to helping with housing and transport of the less fortunate. As well, the city Emergency services people led by Daniel Desroches and his coordinator Michel Larivière were models of calm and prompt assistance due to wise preparedness. He also pointed out the superb help from 800 soldiers from Valcartier Quebec “who were there for the peak of the flood and, of which, 600 remained to assist with every and any thing until the end of the emergency.” As well, he was grateful to the provincial authorities and the neighbouring municipalities and service clubs for their help and generosity. One need only look at the city web site to see the support measures afforded to those affected such as clean-up help and guidance, tax exemptions, help with financial claims and medical assistance and more.

I salute all the people involved in leading these successful emergency response events to a safe and mitigated conclusion, and all their citizens for maintaining their composure and respect for each other through these difficult times.

Work to be done
However, when I see access to downtown Vancouver, not far from a seismic fault similar to the Ring of Fire, blocked by a single hydro tower, I wonder about building standards, access, egress and evacuation routes, and medical services. If these are not available, what is our expectation of civility with our present levels of preparedness? I was part of a review of earthquake preparedness for the BC Auditor in 1997 and ponder if much has changed since then. If not, it should. That is the leadership expected.  

Clive Addy, Executive Editor
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