By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES – During recent council meetings, it was determined that the town’s Emergency Management Plan needed to be updated. The document is an important one given the increasing number and severity of harsh storms battering the Southwest coast.
Town Manager Leon MacIsaac stated that the document is updated periodically as required by the province under the Emergency Services Act.
“The document is reviewed and approved through the department of Fire and Emergency Services and is required to be reviewed on an annual basis.”
The plan can be used in a variety of situations the town might face.
“These documents are put in place to assist municipalities in their preparedness and planning initiatives in the event of a major event such as floods, storms, power failures, marine incidents, pandemics, etc.”
Lesley Clarke is the Director of Communications with the Department of Justice and Public Safety.
“A plan has the methods in which the town can mobilize their resources during an emergency. The process of updating a plan allows staff, partners and, in some cases, residents to become familiar with the emergency measures of the town and their respective roles.”
Regular updates allow for lessons learned from previous emergency experiences to be integrated, and ensures that the most up to date contact numbers are ready to go should the plan be implemented.
“So that at any hour, the appropriate people can be engaged. It’s an all hazards plan that also has processes in place of who to contact and who is responsible for incidents such as a power outages, flooding, etc. A plan provides guidance for Municipalities to respond and restore the town to a normal state as soon as possible.”
“Most recently in the last couple of years the plan was updated and submitted to the department,” said Mayor Brian Button. “What’s being updated in the plan currently right now is the contact information throughout the town. Different people that, like every organization we’ll say, like could be Newfoundland Power, could be someone at the hospital, or director, could be someone here like me.”
Also discussed during the council meetings was proper training for those using the Emergency Plan. This can include a variety of organizations outside of town staff.
“Training is available to Council, staff, fire department, medical professionals, etc. who are identified in the Emergency Plan and would typically involve courses in Basic Emergency Management and development of an Emergency Operations Centre,” said MacIsaac. “Courses are typically made available through Fire and Emergency Services on an annual basis.”
Button said that Emergency Management and Planning Officer (EMO), Judy Brake, has helped the town prepare with strategic exercises in the past.
“We also deal quite a bit with Emergency Measures, the EMO, Judy Brake,” said Button. “At the last Council meeting we had a correspondence from the emergency coordinator, Judy Brake, talking about ways of offering for council and staff of even setting up some tabletop exercises, and so on, which we’re really open to that.”
The town’s emergency plan was not used when the late November 2021 storm washed out the highway in multiple locations.
“We normally don’t implement an emergency plan unless we’re in a state where the town itself can no longer handle the situation, our workers can’t handle the situation, the measures are now gone beyond our control, or we need immediate assistance in our community.”
That didn’t happen, as the fallout from that storm was a regional one and not confined exclusively to the town. Instead the province stepped in, while Port aux Basques staff and organizations were able to do their part.
However, Mayor Button did share some examples of when Port aux Basques might choose to declare that state of emergency.
“We implement our emergency plan if there was a disaster at Marine Atlantic when the ferries come in, and so on and so forth, that they could be implemented then. God forbid, if there was an explosion up there, and things like that happened,” said Button. “We weren’t in any dire emergency where we had lost, let’s say, we’ve lost water services, we had main water lines washed out. We had no abilities to have water in our community for fire services. If it washed out the main line so the entire town didn’t have any abilities, then if there was a fire that we’d be able to fight that. We’d have to call a state of emergency then, because we need assistance, and we need something here in case those emergencies happen.”
Button added that when the highways were washed out, it was not just a local issue, it was a provincial issue that triggered the province’s own emergency response and eventual assistance from the federal government which deployed military helicopters and assistance.
“We did have highway washouts, which was a provincial issue, and when that happened, the province already from their EMO office, had already started an emergency plan where they didn’t only just bring the community of Port aux Basques to the table, they brought all the communities in the region. They got together and their plan then was full. They used every measure, every department that would be involved from Transportation, to the Department of Justice and Public Safety, to Western Health, all the way down through to anyone and anybody.”
Button believed that from the town’s perspective, initiating a state of emergency would not have changed its overall response.
“It wasn’t a case where if we had called a state of emergency here for the town,” said Button. “We didn’t need any assistance in town as such. The state of emergency, or the emergency, was in the transportation link, which was being handled by the province. So us calling a state of emergency would’ve done absolutely nothing different than what was happening there from that point of view, because they had already activated their plans. We were all at the table, and we were part of a bigger picture with every community, including the Codroy Valley area.”
Button pointed out that there was a past incident that required declaring a state of emergency during his previous term as mayor.
“It was January 2008. We had had a major water break somewhere in town, which couldn’t be identified, and we had lost water services for the entire community.”
Among other issues, the lack of means to respond effectively to a fire justified that decision to enact the town’s emergency plan.
“Fire services was a big concern in our community, of us getting a fire into our community and not being able to respond to it was the biggest thing. We also we were running the risk in the middle of January with frigid temperatures out there on people’s waters and things in their homes of freezing, and so on and so forth, because the water supply had stopped. We had nothing coming in. There was a whole bunch of stuff, and when we called a state of emergency we were able to, at that time then, we were able to avail off provincial help. We were able to get water trucked in for residents.”
Button said that participating in tabletop exercises with the key partners is always useful in preparing for similar future emergencies. He has found it useful and informative in the past.
“It’s interesting when you go through it,” said Button. “It was done like real life. It was done where scenarios were thrown at us. The actual phone calls were being made to hospitals, actual phone calls to fire departments, actual phone calls to the province, so on and so forth. Like every piece of it was real. We didn’t just say ‘Well, we’re going to pick up the phone now and pretend that we’re calling somewhere.’ The actual call went in.”
The mayor hopes to arrange for a tabletop exercise in the future, but it would need to be at a time when pandemic restrictions allow for the exercise to take place in person.
“I’d rather do that than just having presentations,” said Button. “Like I’d rather be involved in an actual tabletop real life type thing, and you can go in and we can do it. And it’s nice to still do that, to have people from the Department to come out and talk about emergency plans, and have the players sit around the table that are involved in your emergency plan, and hear the things from EMO, and so on and so forth. But doing an actual tabletop would be great as well. It’s a great experience for all people that may become involved in your plan.”