This is Not a Drill

Southwestern B.C. just got a lesson in emergency preparedness. We got a big dump of heavy, wet snow that brought countless trees and branches down on to the power lines. Nearly 100,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity, some for a day or two, some for 5 days and counting.

Getting around was nearly impossible since local governments like to pretend that we never get snow so they never have enough snow removal equipment. They can plow the arterials (eventually), but the side streets are left to turn into ice rinks. And sidewalks? Forget about it. Just as the ditches are full of crumpled vehicles, the hospitals are now full of people with fractured limbs.

I was (and still am) snowed in by 20 inches of snow on a very long driveway. Though I was physically prepared, I wasn’t mentally prepared for the isolation and took the first opportunity to escape to civilization. I was amazed by the destruction I saw on the way out. On the way back I saw that though the power is on now it has clearly been a patch job. They will have to come back and fix it properly, which probably means more power outages.

People are starting to ask question about how BC Hydro has handled this. Some years ago they started privatizing line maintenance, the result of which is we are now at the mercy of contractors who may not have the same work ethic and sense of community service that government employees have. It also seems that the Lower Mainland was the priority and it was only after they were back on that they sent extra crews to the Island. They didn’t take into account that Vancouver Island is a retirement destination and there were many seniors here suffering in the cold. And where was the Provincial Emergency Program? Would it have killed them to set up emergency shelters in the hardest hit neighbourhoods and get the most vulnerable people evacuated?

In the back of my mind are questions about how we would fare in the event of a major earthquake (which they say is due any minute now). We are supposed to be able to live without electricity and water for three days. That seems inadequate to me now. If our understaffed and underequipped utilities and governments couldn’t deal with this limited emergency in three days, they have no hope of dealing with a general one in that time. Three weeks, maybe, but not three days. And we not only have to be able to take care of ourselves, but we should be able to take care of any neighbours who can’t do likewise. Shame on us if we don’t.

The ''driveway''

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10 comments on “This is Not a Drill

  1. Wil Cone says:

    20 inches! Wow!
    Your post reminds me of something John Rundle of the newly-formed California Hazards Institute said in a talk here he gave recently. I can't remember it exactly, but it was along the lines of: after an earthquake or a hurricane, the real disaster is usually the government's response to the event.
    And I had to chuckle at your line: “we are now at the mercy of contractors who may not have the same work ethic and sense of community service that government employees have.” Things must be different in Canada. The “work ethic and sense of community service that government employees have” here in New Mexico would set a very, very low bar.

  2. Sylvia says:

    I imagine the civil servants up here are better paid and better treated, which certainly improves one's disposition to work. When I was in government I certainly saw one or two folks waiting to collect their pensions, but everyone else worked their tails off. Of course I'm not talking about the higher-ups. Their function seems to be to inhibit work by cutting budgets, changing direction, and reorganizing departments as often as possible.

  3. Jill says:

    Why *is* it that municipalities will always try to pretend that snow doesn't fall in great quantities? I know why — but I'm always amazed that anyone feels comfortable with the approach. Surely they have to understand that such an assumption will inevitably turn around and bites them one day. Twenty inches! And limited snow removal equipment. Geez.

  4. Andrew says:

    I also live in Victoria, and while I was snowed in on day one, I had no problems getting around from day 2 onwards. There's very little problems with snow downtown, but I hear there's STILL power outages in outlying areas, which I think is appalling.
    Privatization is one of my pet peeves – there are things in society which should not be run under the capitalism way of thinking of money being the bottom line {as it were).

  5. Sylvia says:

    I totally agree. Making a profit off of basic necessities (like health care or electricity) seems immoral to me.

  6. A says:

    Sure is purty though.

  7. Sylvia says:

    I guess… πŸ˜‰

  8. Stefanie says:

    Wow, 20 inches? We've had changes in our snow plowing procedures here in the last few years, budget cuts and what not. The result is the roads don't get cleared as fast and when they are it is poorly done leaving lots of icy patches. Of course the mayor says everything is how it has always been. Yeah, right. Glad you are doing ok, hope you get dug out soon. Have you been reading lots?

  9. Heather says:

    I've noticed that those '72 hour' commercials are running more often (http://www.redcross.ca/article.asp?id=017537&tid=025) It's a little creepy, but a good idea. We've got everything except the water…the hardest part is finding places to store all of it.

  10. Sylvia says:

    I'm afraid I haven't been reading much. My house got into quite a state and I've been busy cleaning up, doing laundry, emptying the fridge, not to mention digging the car out little by little. Grumble.
    I don't have water stored either. I live near a creek so I figure I'll just get it from there and purify it. I'm rethinking that now, though. The last thing I need in a situation like that is more work to do.

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