Preparation is key to dealing with calamities

A Family Day-style snow storm is just one of many possible calamities a community needs to consider in its emergency planning

What Terrace experienced on the 2015 Family Day weekend was not what promoters would refer to as fun in the snow. The official measure of 159 centimeters granted the kind of momentary fame we can do without.

It was remarkable how the mountains of snow dumped and blown around town vanished nearly as quickly as they appeared. By Valentine’s Day the city’s streets, parking lots, driveways, and roofs looked near normal for the time of year.

Now that it is all over it is a good time to reflect on the community’s response to this extraordinary weather event. Immediate recognition and appreciation goes to the workers, both municipal and private contractors, who spent their Family Day not with their families, but with their machines.

Equal recognition goes to the “mechanized” good people who helped their “manual” neighbours to clear their driveways and walkways. Thank you all.

What is easily overlooked when events eclipse our expectations is the planning and preparatory work needed for effective responses to what may happen when least expected.

How many miles (sorry, kilometers) of traffic lanes and sidewalks are there in Terrace? How many intersections and emergency access and exit points? Where under all those snow banks are the hydrants?

Canada’s sophisticated weather service issues timely warnings of coming storms, but that time frame is woefully inadequate to prepare an action plan. All it allows for is the implementation of a carefully developed and regularly tested emergency response plan.

A Family Day-style snow storm is just one of many possible calamities a community needs to consider in its emergency planning. Rain storms and floods can be equally devastating. Could Terrace suffer an earthquake or a fire storm? Could a Lac-Mégantic style industrial disaster happen in Terrace?

The key to responsible emergency planning is to project what may happen. The Family Day snow storm could not have been anticipated when the city adopted the 2015 budget, but the long-term financial plan must include a contingency for such an event. Should it provide for just one such event per year, or is a rapid succession of Family Day storms possible?

For many Atlantic coast municipalities this is no longer a hypothetical question. How about a Lac-Mégantic catastrophe, is that something for which our community should be prepared?

Benjamin Franklin held that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

The relevance of an emergency response plan cannot be assessed until there is an emergency and its implementation is called for. Preparing for emergencies costs money, but not as much as a policy of “try this and if it does not work we’ll try something else.”

To be prepared for emergencies the community needs specialized equipment, a trained labour force, and a versatile action plan with which to guide the organization and the deployment of manpower and equipment.

What are the priorities, and where are they? What needs to take precedence in the organization of priorities, is it efficiency or effectiveness?

Innocuous if not pedantic routines such as marking and regularly inspecting fire hydrants and keeping public works equipment ready to go at all times are critical to an effective emergency response.

The goal to all of this planning is to maximize the municipality’s ability to respond to any emergency in real time.

The lifeblood of all this planning and preparing is money. The best intentions will produce little if the municipality’s financial plan does not provide the means to implement them.

It is quite obvious that 2015 Family Day weekend dipped into the municipality’s contingency fund. Let’s show our appreciation for the availability of that reserve by encouraging council to restore the contingency reserves so as to be ready to respond as effectively as the community did this time when next Terrace makes unwelcome national headlines.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator now living in Terrace, B.C.