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“Be Prepared” is Prescott-Russell’s emergency motto


The well-known Scout motto has become the watchword now for emergency plan- ning for Prescott-Russell municipalities since the 1998 ice stormraged across Onta- rio and Québec. “The government woke up,” saidDanHol- mes, the community emergency manage- ment coordinator (CEMC) for the region. Holmes serves as the CEMC for both Cham- plain Township and Alfred-Plantagenet Township. He provides consultation services on emergency management planning to other municipalities within the Prescott- Russell region. He remarked on how the provincial go- vernment’s overall attitude towards emer- gency preparedness in Ontario, at all levels, changed in the aftermath of the Ice Stormof 1998. “Theymade emergencymanagement mandatory for everymunicipality,” he said. Holmes himself was living inHawkesbury during the 1998 ice storm. At that time, he worked for Air Canada in a different capa- city. For the past several years now, he has been CEMC for the two townships and a consultant to other municipalities. During this time, he has researched the differences in emergency preparedness prior to and since the ice storm. Before 1998, he noted, not all municipa- lities in Ontario had their own emergency and disaster strategy. Those that did had a general idea of how to react in an emer- gency.There was also no guarantee that any municipality with an emergency planmade a habit of doing practice drills tomake sure it was effective. That situation changed following the 1998 ice storm.The provincial government revam- ped its regulations dealing with emergency preparedness from top to bottom. It also demanded that all municipalities have their own emergency management strategy. Such strategy included written guidelines on dealing with an emergency, the set-up of an emergency program committee (EPC) and a control group (ECG), and designating a CEMC. “By December 2004, everybody

DanHolmes, coordonnateur de la gestion des urgences communautaires pense que nous sommes mieux préparés à gérer et à faire face aux situations d’urgence.

nage and deal with it (emergencies),” said Holmes, adding that all emergency mana- gement and disaster plans now undergo regular review and revision.

“People know their roles and their res- ponsibilities. We’ve made the systemmore robust. People take it seriously now, at all levels of government.”

John Wilson remembers the ice storm

had to have all those things,” said Holmes, “and they had to conduct regular exercises and training (scenarios).” A training exercise did not require decla- ring a pretend state of emergency and sen- ding fire department, paramedics, police, and others to a location where they would pretend to deal with a crisis situation.There are “table-top” exercises available now for a variety of emergency situations for themem- bers of the EPC and ECG to sit down and run through during a meeting. Much of these table-top exercises consist of rapid-fire ques- tions to each member present demanding their reactions to and responsibilities for an emergency scenario. “These (table-top) exercises are very effective,” said Holmes. He cited the 2006 gas explosion in the Vankleek Hill area as an example of the im- provement in emergency preparedness.The community’s handling of the crisis earned it a public commendation from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office. “We’re definitely better prepared to ma-


As long as he lives John Wilson will never forget the 1998 ice storm. “It did not seem to be a very bad winter,” said Wilson. “We had some cold weather. Then it softened up, and the rain came down. I never dreamed it would go on for as long as it did.” In 1998 John Wilson was mayor of the newly formed Township of Champlain. As a retired lineman with Ontario Hydro, Wil- son could already imagine the trouble this weather would cause. “After a few days you could see the trees start arching down,” he recalled, seeing again the weight of the ice pushing branches and even entire trees down towards the power lines. Emergency action On January 4, 1998, Wilson and the other mayors of Prescott-Russell gathered toge- ther for an emergency session. By mutual consent, he was named Chief Superin- tendent for the Prescott-Russell Disaster Program (PRDP). First order of business was to review the available emergency plan(s) for the region. “When I started I had three concerns,” Wilson said. “First: No casualties. Second: Protect the seniors. Third: Get the (power) grid back up as fast as possible.” The PRDP included representatives for fire, police, ambulance, Hydro, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other groups. Wilson and the PRDPmet eachmorning to review issues of the day, progress in dealing with effects of the ice storm, and setting priorities. As the ice storm continued and the work piled up, the meetings shifted to every second day as everyone focused on problems and responsibilities. Wilson himself spent most of every day touring the region, checking on progress in getting the power back on, and manning the shelters for those who couldn’t stay at their homes. Hemet with senior government

John et Karen Wilson profitent d’une soirée tranquille ensemble. John Wilson se souvient très bien du travail et de l’inquiétude que lui et d’autres ont éprouvés lors de la tempête de verglas de 1998 dans Prescott-Russell. —photo provided officials who came to tour the area, and also with Canadian Armed Forces representa- tives after the federal government assigned military units to help with emergency relief. “A typical day was going from place to place, making sure that everything was in place,” he said. “I equate it to an orchestra. Everybody in an orchestra knows what they need to do. They just need a conductor to bring the music together.” Unsung heroes “What I recall the most from those days are the volunteers,” Wilson said. “People all trying to help. All in all, it was a scary situa- tion, but with the co-operation of everyone, it all worked out.” Wilson described the Ice Stormof ’98 as “a learning experience” for himself and others. He lives in Renfrew, ON now and one of the first things he made sure of was that he had a working portable generator at home. “When I hear a tree cracking or ice falling now,” he said, “it still brings backmemories.”

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