The calls and queries continue to roll in following the ice storm. The anger and frustration around the GTA has been quite remarkable. People are upset for a variety of reasons: lack of power; lack of information; duplication of information; useless information; lack of timely repairs; a certain deputy mayor going to Florida and the list goes on.
A colleague of mine forwarded me his thoughts on the ice storm. His thoughts were spot on, and thought provoking. He’s allowed me to share these thoughts with you. I’m sure that you’ll find them interesting. Here you go:
During the Toronto Ice Storm of 2013, my high-rise condominium building went without heat and lights for 72+ hours. At one point, the building’s back-up generators went down as well which meant there were no emergency lights in the hall-ways, no lights in the stairways and the service elevator was no longer in operation. In addition, the weather outside also plummeted, at one point, to a chilly -18 degrees Celsius (incl. wind chill). According to the media, this was one of the worse ice storms in the city’s history.
Many of you may have also been affected by this storm, and I hope that you were able to manage. I’ve sent you this email because I wanted to share my experience, thoughts and insights with you, as well as part of my emergency/disaster preparedness plan, in the hopes that you might be able to find some, or all, of this information helpful.
My family, comprised of my spouse, my newborn baby, and my dog, had multiple invitations to go to other people’s warm, lit homes; however, wanting to test our emergency/disaster preparedness, we decided to stay within the confines of our own home. We felt safe in the knowledge that we had back-up plans available to us.
Part 1 – What worked
1. We had a basic survival/emergency/disaster plan in place prior to the power outage.
2. We had two Coghlans Folding Stoves at home (see http://www.amazon.ca/Coghlans-9957-Folding-Stove/dp/B0007L8108/ref=pd_bxgy_s_img_b). These stoves are safe for indoor use.
3. We also had six Coghlans Camp Heat canisters (see http://www.amazon.ca/Coghlans-450-0450-Camp-Heat/dp/B000FY213K/ref=pd_sim_s_1). Each canister lasts 4 hours, and the heat can be turned on/off. These canisters are safe for indoor use.
4. We were able to boil water and heat up canned food like soup, which we had on hand. Our baby, eats both breast milk and formula. Since we were able to boil our water, we were able to regularly provide him with fresh formula.
5. We had tons of candles. There were two styles we use:
(a) Ikea’s Jubla candle (article number: 601.919.16) are shorter than standard long candles and extra thick. These candles give off great light and heat. See http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/60191916/.
(b) Ikea’s Glimma candle (article number: 901.083.60) are a tea-light style candle that are larger than standard tea-light candles. See http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/90108360/. We use these candles with Ikea’s Brodhult latern (article number: 101.614.79). See http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/10161479/. We are very happy with these as well.
6. We have several Maglite flashlights. Two are the Mini Maglite LED 3W 2AA (see http://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/maglite-led-3w-2aa-0652133p.html) and one is the Maglite 3W 2D LED (see http://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/maglite-3w-2d-led-flashlight-0652020p.html). The larger Maglite particularly came in handy when I had to navigate the dark stairwells in our building.
7. Having a battery operated radio was also helpful because we could listen to news up-dates and weather reports; however, see my thoughts on radios under Part 3 (“What’s Next“).
8. As soon as the power went out on Saturday around 2200 hrs (we were home at the time), we pulled out all of our pots and stainless steel bowls, and filled them with water. While we were fortunate that our fresh running water never disappeared through this experience, more than half of the residents in our building lost their fresh running water because the pumps that deliver the water to their units were not working with the loss of power.
Part 2 – Lessons learned from our emergency/disaster preparedness experience
1. Public officials cannot necessarily be trusted. When the power went out on December 21st, City of Toronto officials were saying that the power would be restored within 72 hours. 24-36 hours into the power outage, city officials revised their estimate and said that it may be up to a week before power could be restored. As of today, they are now saying that some people may not have their hydro power restored until January 2014!!!
2. The so-called “public warming centres” that the City of Toronto opened were not conveniently located throughout the city. Both Ontario’s Premier and city officials kept pushing these centres during their separate daily news conferences, and news media kept reporting that the Mayor and Premier were traveling to and visiting the various public warming centres. In my opinion, these “public warming centres” became a distraction for our civic leaders, and, while they only served a very small percentage of our population without hydro power, these centres were overly promoted by the media and our civic leaders as the answer to being without hydro power.
3. The City of Toronto refused to declare the ice storm and resulting power outage an “emergency” situation. Perhaps Mayor Rob Ford, who held the sole power to declare an emergency, didn’t want to be remembered like former mayor Mel Lastman is remembered for calling an emergency in January 1999 (see http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2009/01/11/10_years_later_mel_lastman_proud_he_called_in_army.html). Had the mayor called this situation an emergency, more resources would have become available to the city and fewer people would have had to suffer as long as they did. Ontario’s Premier, in a news conference, has said as much. If you’d like to watch the Premier’s press conferences about this situation, check out http://www.livestream.com/premierofontario. Rather than hold joint news conferences, the Province and the City of Toronto have been holding separate daily/twice daily news conferences, which have almost always had the same officials from Hydro Ontario and Toronto Hydro participating in the both news conferences. Today’s Toronto Star has an interesting opinion/comment piece on Mayor Ford’s failure to declare a state of emergency – see http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/12/27/toronto_should_call_the_ice_storm_what_it_is_an_emergency.html
4. Toronto’s Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly, who holds most of the powers formerly held by Mayor Rob Ford after Mayor Ford was stripped of the majority of his powers by city council, decided, in the middle of this situation, to go for a Florida vacation rather than stay in the city and help its residents in his role and capacity as the guy who has the most power at City Hall. That’s stand-up leadership for you …. not! See http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/12/27/ice_storm_norm_kelly_apologizes_for_florida_trip_over_christmas.html.
5. The number of people actually affected by the power outage was reported lower than the actual number. During the first 36-48 hours of the power outage, news media outlets were reporting that XXX,XXX number of “people” were without power. There was no plausible way this figure could have been accurately calculated. Thereafter, the media began reporting that YYY,YYY number of “customers” were still without power. This “customers” figure was more realistic than the “people” figure; however, my condo building, which has 322 units, is considered one (1) “customer” because hydro is a shared condominium shared expense. Any condo or apartment building built before 5-8 years ago typically has one hydro connection for the entire building. Circa 2008, new condo builders started installing separate hydro hook-ups for new buildings. On Thursday, Hydro Toronto said that it estimates that one “customer” equals 2.5 “people“; however, while this figure may be an estimate for residential homes, it is clearly an inaccurate figure for residential buildings. If every unit is my building was considered one “customer“, 805 “people” were theoretically affected in my building alone. In the eyes of the media and our civic leaders, only 2.5 people were affected in my building. How many other residential buildings (i.e., condos + apartments) were affected by this power outage? It is regrettable that neither the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, Toronto Hydro or the media properly explained this situation to the public. It is also regrettable that the true extent and negative impact of the power outage was not properly identified and communicated to the public.
6. When I went downtown within 36 hours of the power going out in the North York Centre area (think Mel Lastman Square), it was a different world between North York and downtown Toronto. Downtown Toronto did not receive the same volume of freezing ice as North York, and, as a result, the damage caused by the freezing ice was less severe downtown. The North York Centre area got hit hard, and the number of homes and businesses without power was extensive. I know other areas of the city were also hit hard by this storm. Hydro crews did not arrive in the North York Centre area until the evening of December 24th (some 72 hours after the storm hit), and I saw on CTV’s News Channel this afternoon that a number of homes nearby my building, in the community of Willowdale, only got their power back on Friday morning after their power went out on Saturday night. My friend, who lives along the Finch/Yonge to Steeles/Yonge corridor, told me this afternoon that he went 5 days without power. He also nearly killed himself because he used an inappropriate camping stove in his home and nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Apparently, he blacked out and extensively vomited. He says that he feels very fortunate to be alive today, and he says that he made a terrible mistake.
7. City of Toronto officials, during news conferences, called the ice storm the ice storm of the century. In the summer of 2013, when Toronto experienced severe flooding, city officials called it the flood of the century. It’s pretty amazing that we’ve had two “storms of the century” in the same year. What are the odds?! My feeling, after this experience, is that our civic leaders don’t have a clue and our public infrastructure is not prepared to deal with or manage these natural disasters. My feeling is also that we’re going to be experiencing more of these situations in our future.
Part 3 – What’s Next
Having now gone through an emergency/disaster preparedness situation/test, there are a few things I’m going to be doing going forward, in addition to the items listed in Part 1 (What Worked).
1. Storing more bottled water at my home.
2. Storing more canned food at my home.
3. Storing more camp heat canisters for my portable stoves.
4. Buying more “survival” items. If my family had to evacuate out of the city, I don’t think we’re adequately prepared. Some of the items I’ve now bought are listed below.
SAS Survival Handbook: The Ultimate Guide To Surviving Anywhere (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0007274939/).
Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit book (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/1440318743/). I’ve learned that an emergency/disaster preparedness kit/bag is commonly called a “bug out” bag (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bug-out_bag). I appreciate that the Internet can also be a source of useful information.
Ambient Weather WR-333 Emergency Solar Hand Crank Weather Alert Radio, Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B009NUK6S4/). Eton also sells a number of hand crank weather radios, many of which are co-branded with the Canadian Red Cross. I’m intending this radio to be my primary at-home radio.
Eton NSP200WXOR Raptor Solar USB Charger and Weatherband Radio (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B004H8FUEM/). I’m intending this radio to be my primary out-of-home radio.
Emergency Blanket (Single Person) (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00266H5VI/)
Emergency Blanket (Two Person) (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B001MW31XS/)
Emergency Bivvy (Single Person) (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B000WXX0JS/)
Emergency Bivvy (Two Person) (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B0091DVNNK/)
LifeStraw Water Filter (see http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B006QF3TW4/)