Lisa Gervais: Following the learning curve
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | May 11, 2017|
When disasters strike, people need critical and accurate information quickly.
They also need reassurance that someone is in control. The Township of Minden Hills has done a good job on both fronts over the past week or so.
Our email inbox has been flooded – no pun intended – with press releases from the township over the past several days.
When roads began to be closed in the middle of last week, they let us know. When the weather forecast turned ominous at the tail end of last week, they let us know that, too, since there was the potential for 2013-like water levels. And, they told us what people could do to cope, whether by sandbagging or by seeking help at specific locations.
The fact that the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW) and Federal government have done a much better job of communicating with the municipality has certainly helped. However, it would appear that the township learned some valuable lessons in 2013 and has taken its communications to a much higher level. As soon as we receive these press releases, we are able to immediately post them to our Facebook page and website. That means that the general public is in the loop much more quickly than ever before. Credit must also go to Reeve Brent Devolin. He made time on Sunday to be interviewed by The Highlander and held press conferences on Monday and Wednesday.
Monday’s press conference was also attended by Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale. Schmale posted a live video of that press conference and we were able to share it with viewers within the hour. We left feeling that someone was in charge, an indicator of true leadership. We would also commend the township for its very timely purchase of a sandbagging machine. The $35,000 investment was one of the best spends this municipality has ever made. The unit can fill at least 1,600 bags per hour using skilled labour. When council was discussing the purchase, Devolin said it was something they hoped to never use but inevitably would. Little did he know how soon that would be.
So, the municipality has gotten a lot right. However, it will always be criticized for too little, too late. Some people believe there should have been a stockpile of sandbags and that the municipality could have gotten a head start on sandbagging operations before the crisis struck last week. For example, why weren’t sandbags placed along the Riverwalk and in other vulnerable spots prior to the weekend? As with all natural disasters, there will be a discussion about what was done well and what was done poorly.
Indeed, there will be discussion as to whether this was natural at all. Yes, it was excessive rain that overflowed the lakes, but could earlier action have mitigated the effects? We need a continuing dialogue with the TSW about its decisions to move water across our watershed. This has been a sore spot for our municipalities for years and we can only hope that Schmale can stress this with his Ottawa counterparts.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, it does appear as though natural disasters are becoming more widespread in our county. If the 2013 flood was considered to be a once-in-a-century event then why are we having another one just four years later, in 2017? All levels of government, and the public, have to better plan for these changing conditions.
Finally, while it may seem cliché, Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt hit the nail on the head on our social media pages when she commented on how wonderfully our community responds to a crisis. Volunteers turned out in droves to fill sandbags, donate food and beverages, drop off supplies and set up help centres.
We thank all of them for their continuing efforts. There is still much work to be done and we hope that when the crisis passes the community can reflect on the flood of 2017 and put what it has learned this time around to good use in future.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.