31 January 2020

City bungled emergency. Residents paid price. #nlpoli

EOCs bring key people together in one spot  with the
information needed to make crucial decisions
during an emergency.
Now we know why the City of St. John's emergency response was as disjointed and chaotic as SRBP described last Monday.

The City decided not to activate its emergency plan even though they declared a state of emergency.

Here's the way CBC described the decision in a comment buried way down in story on the disastrous disaster response:

The provincial government ran its own emergency centre, and while St. John's has its own emergency operations centre, Mayor Danny Breen said it wasn't activated because communication with various channels such as city staff and first responders was able to be done over the phone.
"If we had opened the emergency operation centre and sent everyone to one place, first of all we wouldn't be able to get them there, and the resources to get them there would have been taken away from what the problem was at hand," he said.
Breen's comments don't make sense given the City had a week's warning of the huge blizzard that swept eastern Newfoundland on January 17, 2020.

The normal response in potential emergency situations like that one is to stand up the emergency centre *before* the event.  It can have minimum staffing levels with the option to increase the number of people as situations develop.  The provincial emergency plan provides for three levels of activation.

The purpose of an operations centre is to keep all key decision-makers in the one spot and minimise delays when makign crucial decisions.  The City's plan includes provision for provincial government representatives and individuals representing non-government responders like Salvation Army to be present in the EOC to maximise co-ordination.

By failing to activate the emergency plan before the  snow storm, the city went into a record storm unprepared for the pressures that came.

They weren't ready to provide the basic levels of community care  - like warming centres for residents with power failures - that would be necessary in a far less serious situation than the one they faced.

By failing to set up a media centre,  the City had no control of how they were responding to media demands.  That only added pressure to decision-makers like the mayor who would already be overloaded without an operations centre and staff to help manage the thousands of  demands being placed on the City.

The province wasn't in much better shape.  They didn't stand up their emergency centre  - apparently  - until after the military arrived to provide assistance.  That's far from ideal and certainly controbuted to the confusion across the region.

But at least they had an EOC.

Danny Breen's comment about not being able to get to the EOC only lasted until major routes were cleared.  At that point the City could have activated its plan and set up a command centre to co-ordinate its own response and improve communications with the province and neighbours.

Residents of the City deserve answers on the way the City managed the emergency response.  Someone like Len LeRiche, a former regional director for Emergency Preparedness Canada, would have the credibility and experience to conduct a review and identify need changes for next time.