Hamilton promising better storm updates in future

The next time a major storm knocks out power in Hamilton, the city will push to keep residents better informed and faster, says the city manager, as widespread criticism prompts action

City manager Chris Murray says the next time a major storm sweeps through Hamilton and knocks out power,  the city will keep residents better informed. And do it faster.

"People hate excuses," Chris Murray told CBC Hamilton. "There are no excuses. The communication needs to be improved."

After Friday's storm kicked debris around the city and knocked out power for many, there was no information on the city's website about cleanup until Monday afternoon - 66 hours after the storm hit. People have been telling the city that's not good enough, and the city is listening, Murray says.

"People rightfully expect us to be seamless," he said. "People are saying 'just let us know when things will be restored to normal.'"

Because of the communication breakdown, Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla says he is now pushing for the city to create a "centralized, one stop" web page or social media outlet for people to get updates in storm situations.

"The majority of concerns I heard weren't that the power was off, but rather 'how long would it be?'" Merulla said. "We have to get moving on this."

Ideally, Merulla says, the website or social media outlet created would have information from the city, Horizon Utilities, ambulance, fire, and cable services. Because they city is a majority stakeholder in Horizon, "we can provide that direction as a policy," he said.

Murray says that's doable. "It's a great idea, and one we can do ourselves," Murray said. "People need to be able to get an accurate sense of when their issues will be resolved."

Merulla says he hopes to create a policy around a new site "as soon as possible," or as soon as city council's summer schedule will allow.

The city's new Twitter account did provide some information over the weekend as well. "So we have moved the yardstick a little," Merulla said.

City crews have been working feverishly since Friday night to clean up the damage from Friday's storm, Murray says. Throughout the night, wind gusts up to 106 km/h were recorded at Hamilton International Airport, while the Royal Botanical Gardens saw 45 millilitres of rain.

And while communication is definitely on the city's radar, more practical concerns are keeping city staff busy right now, Murray says.

"Right, now, we're just focused on cleaning up."