Igor Rebuttal

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Local expert challenges province’s Igor response

I hadn’t planned to write anything further about Hurricane Igor. My previous posts on the subject, and the excellent coverage in The Packet, demonstrated that the province dithered when it should have been decisive.

However, a story in yesterday’s Telegram cries out for a response. You can read the full story here: http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2011-06-27/article-2614419/Minister--defends-Igor-response/1

In a story headlined “Minister defends Igor response,” Kevin O’Brien does the opposite, admitting that the province does not have an “overarching emergency management plan in place.”

“You don’t have a cookie-cutter type plan that fits every event that might happen in Newfoundland and Labrador,” the Municipal Affairs Minister said, to reporter James McLeod.

I know someone who takes issue with that. Paul Clay is the President of Seacom, a local business that specializes in emergency response analysis, planning, and training. He served for 14 years with the Armed Forces of Australia, before forming Seacom in 1994. The company has worked internationally for Chevron, ExxonMobil, Husky Energy, PEMEX (in Venezuela) and others.

I have known Paul for years, and we have worked side by side in various emergency response teams. I sent him a note, asking if he agreed with my basic assessment: that the province waited too long in not requesting assistance from the military.

“You are bang on,” he said. “The province waited far too long. The province for many years has been going through a restructuring process with regards to the Fire and Emergency Services (FES), what we still refer to sometimes as EMO (Emergency Measures Organization). Unfortunately, FES are still substantially understaffed and at the most senior levels are not looking at the bigger picture from a strategic planning point of view.”

Clay says much of the energy and budget at FES is directed toward processing personal house claims, resulting from floods and other disasters.

“There are few people, if any, left to plan, train and exercise for major provincial events such as those that occurred in Igor," Clay said. "In many ways it is great that the province has become strong politically, but strength in the presence of arrogance (which is what the province showed during Igor) is an enormous weakness and, as a result, Igor bit us in the ass because we were not ready. We need more people at Fire and Emergency Services–NL, more money dedicated to provincial emergency preparedness, a well defined provincial Emergency Response Plan (do we even have one?), more training and exercising, a well designed provincial Emergency Operations Centre with all the latest technologies, and most importantly a clear command and control infrastructure that demonstrates who is actually in charge of what. I believe command and control – or a lack of a clearly defined structure – caused major problems in Igor.”

The Telegram article quotes an anonymous source within Public Safety Canada, who defends the province’s post-Igor response.

“It's easy to be an armchair quarterback long after the disaster has passed,” the official told The Telegram. “The military works best when they have a specific task to perform. They need to be given very specific orders.”

Um, yeah. Okay. And how difficult is it to identify, say, three communities out of 90 without electricity or road links, and send the military there, just to get the ball rolling? They could have prioritized where to send the help while the ship was on its way, with a full deployment plan ready the moment it arrived. To say anything else is balderdash, and an insult to the intelligence of the people who suffered through the aftermath of Igor.

Anyway, it’s your serve, Minister O'Brien. 

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