December Ice Storm and Clean-Up Efforts

The City of Toronto is providing information on our ice storm clean-up efforts.  Please visit www.toronto.ca , and click on “Ice Storm Debris Clean-up” for more information.  There you will find a “Frequently Asked Questions” section that may address some of your concerns.  There is also a map of where Forestry and Solid Waste Management crews are focusing their efforts in regards to clean-up efforts.

During the outage, I visited different communities in Ward 41 to determine which areas and streets did not have power. Having BCP (Business Continuity Planning) experience, I knew that this severe storm and outage exceeded Toronto Hydro and 311’s capacity.

At the height of the outage, I estimated that 70% of Ward 41 residents were without power. From my drive-a-rounds and constituents informing us of their own situation via email and telephone, we reported the outages to Toronto Hydro to ensure people were not forgotten. Throughout the outage, my office tracked the situation, and provided updates to my e-news subscribers and any others who contacted us.  The hope was that through them, other residents would also be informed of this situation as it unfolded.

Constituents complained that they could not get through to Toronto Hydro or 311, or that Hydro inaccurately told them their power was restored.  My own house lost power at 3:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 22, and was restored just before 5:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 28. Luckily, most the Ward north of Finch was restored by early Tuesday morning. The last pocket was restored on Sunday, December 29 in the evening, although there were individual homes still without power.

Many neighbours helped each other, while city staff and volunteers helped the most vulnerable. City and Hydro crews worked shifts together through the holidays, day and night, to clear debris and restore power. One warming (reception) centre was opened at the Agincourt Community Recreation Centre, and on my first visit was informed that 140 cots had been set up.  I knew it was not enough, so I suggested they increase the numbers. At the peak, 300 people were accommodated. The staff, volunteers and Canadian Red Cross did a great job here. On the first night, there was also an issue with insufficient food, so M.P.P. Soo Wong arranged for pizza delivery.

It was a stressful time for us all but I am pleased that we were able to pull together to get through this crisis. My neighbours helped me, while I helped others, and that was happening throughout the City. Some people were resourceful and used their own improvising skills to overcome the power outage. Some were more prepared than others to outlast the power outage.

Each of us will have to review our own circumstances and see how we can improve our own processes. Although the City does have Emergency Management protocols, someone has to report that emergency.  Moreover, good information has to be provided to enable crews to respond.  It is important to remember that it takes time to get to the emergency location and that crews respond to many different emergencies in these situations (e.g. medical, fire, crime, etc.).

I did have a plan to deal with the power outage, but it can be improved. Four years ago, I had a gas fireplace installed when I converted my house from electric to natural gas heating.  I made sure that the gas insert did not need electricity to operate in case of a winter power outage. I bought a battery power pack just 1 week before the ice storm to run at least some lights and I bought a used set of snow tires for my car and installed them just before the storm to ensure I could get around without being stuck.

Lessons learned: I did not plan for a 6-day power outage, as the longest prior outage I had ever experienced in my life was 2-days.  However, that outage was in the Goldhawk area, which did not impact me. The gas fireplace insert worked to some degree as it provided radiant heat.  However, the blower fan is electric – without the blower fan the fireplace could not keep my house warm enough. My battery power-pack only lasted 1 hour when I plugged in the blower fan, and it took more than 10 hours to fully recharge it so a better solution is needed for future emergencies.

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