Towns react to outage

Shawn Hayward
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Mayors say more people should be prepared for blackouts

While towns provided warmth and shelter when the power went out last weekend, a couple mayors say more people have to be ready for emergencies.

Clarenville council chambers.

The Town of Clarenville and other towns across the province were instructed by Steve Kent, the minister of municipal affairs, to set up warming centres after the power went out on Jan. 4.

Mayor Frazer Russell says five or six citizens used the centre, set up at the fire hall, between 4 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next day. Russell says he dropped by shortly after midnight and a couple of people were still there.

Now that the blackout is over, Russell says it’s time to review how the town reacted and what can be done better.

“We will now be evaluating what we have in place, how effective was it this past weekend. Changes need to be made and improvements need to be made, so that if this happens in the future we’ll be well prepared to handle any situation that may arise,” said Russell.

One lesson learned is that the town would not have enough stored gasoline if the power went off for an extended period of time. Pumps at commercial gas stations don’t work without electricity, and towns must run on what they’ve stored. 

Clarenville has several generators, including the fire hall’s and others for lift stations. The water treatment plant’s back-up generator runs on diesel.

Clarenville had to get additional fuel for generators from the Town of Port Blandford, which didn’t experience an outage.

Russell says ideally the town should have a week’s worth of both gasoline and diesel stored in case of a long-term power outage.

Russell says it’s important people have emergency kits ready, full of essential items, such as flashlights and first-aid kits, that people will need if the power goes off. The town posted a list of essential items on Twitter, and Russell says a flyer is going out to residents.

People should also have a personal emergency plan ready in case of blackouts, according to Russell.

“If your husband was elderly and in a wheelchair, what would you do to get out of your house to get to the town hall?” he said. “Think of your own individual circumstances and have a plan that you would have to take care of that.”

Overall, Russell says the town reacted well to the blackout that started 2014, but there are always things to improve.

“It was an eye opener, and forced us to think of the systems we had in place, if it were to go on longer than 24 hours, and how prepared we would be, “ he said. “We’re in that process now. One thing we’re doing right now is asking residents to be better prepared, because if our residents are better prepared, then there would be less dependence on the town to look after them.”

In Arnold’s Cove, the town set up a warming centre at the Lion’s Club and told residents about it through an emergency phone line that can send an automatic call to everyone in town, according to Mayor Basil Daley. They also posted messages on Facebook and on VOCM.

Arnold’s Cove has a joint emergency preparedness plan with nearby communities and the Come By Chance Oil Refinery, and Daley says this was its first real test. Arnold’s Cove Fire Department helped Sunnyside’s fire department respond to the fire at the Newfoundland Hydro transformer station, a fire that knocked out power to thousands of people across the island.

Like Russell, Daley said not enough people were prepared for the blackout when it happened.

“The biggest issue was that people have no preparations, no plan for what’s coming,” he said. “Some people do, a lot of the seniors were taken out by relatives and brought in other houses. We had to go and get a couple people who needed a ride. Between volunteers to the Lions Club and the fire department, we went and looked after that.”

Daley says between 15 and 20 people used the warming centre from 6 p.m. when it was set up to 9 p.m. when the power returned. If it had gone longer people wouldn’t have had a place to sleep and Daley says cots are needed to be ready for next time.

shawn.hayward@thepacket.ca

@Shawn_M_Hayward

Organizations: Oil Refinery, Cove Fire Department, Newfoundland Hydro Lions Club

Geographic location: Clarenville, Port Blandford

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