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.