EMO criticized over handling of ice storm, power outages
Poor communication, lack of co-ordination cited by Fundy Regional Service Commission and Liberal MLA
New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization faced criticism Tuesday from the Fundy Regional Service Commission and a Liberal MLA over its handling of the recent ice storm that left thousands of homes and businesses without power, some for days.
EMO co-ordinator Brent Whelan got an earful during a meeting with the Fundy Regional Service Commission in Saint John, which was pushed two weeks ahead while memories of the Dec. 23 storm were still fresh.
Area mayors and local service district representatives contend the EMO did not do enough to help those without heat, lights and phones, particularly in rural areas.
"All they had to do was bring us a generator," said Sandra Speight, who represents Greenwich. "We could have hooked it up at the rec centre," which was set up as a warming centre for area residents.
Joan Seeley, who represents Simonds, cited a lack of communication as another key issue.
There was no co-ordination whatsoever, there was no updates, no communication. People were basically picking up the phone and calling whoever they could to get some help.- Charlotte-The-Isles Liberal MLA Rick Doucet
"We did not know where to call, we did not know who to call," she said. "We need go-to people and we need our people to understand — if this situation prevails, go here, or go there."
Whelan, who was one of just two people at the EMO's regional operations centre during the widespread and lengthy outages, said he had issued a warning to all fire chiefs and LSDs.
"Ultimately, I'm responsible for getting the message out," he said. "I just don't think the message got out as it should have."
The EMO is still working on emergency plans for all of the regional service commissions, said Whelan.
Cities and towns already have plans, said Jack Keir, executive director of the Fundy Regional Service Commission. But the storm highlights the need for rural co-ordination, he said.
"With local service districts there's been no real push or accountability to have a plan."
Liberal calls for AG to study EMO response
He has asked the auditor general to study the organization's response to the pre-Christmas storm that left some people in his constituency without power for nearly two weeks.
Doucet, who raised the issue during a public accounts meeting in Fredericton, contends the EMO failed his constituents when they needed help.
"There was no co-ordination whatsoever, there was no updates, no communication. People were basically picking up the phone and calling whoever they could to get some help," he said.
Auditor General Kim MacPherson made note of Doucet's request, but it's unclear whether she will pursue the matter.
She said her office gets more audit suggestions than it can handle and she would need to be convinced it would be a useful venture.
"Whether the work of my office could make recommendations that would rectify that situation in the future, that's what I would think about in deciding whether or not we do work in that area," MacPherson said.
The EMO has never been audited, she said.
Charlotte County still waiting for emergency plan
Doucet says the EMO has hired more people and is spending more money, yet a new emergency plan for Charlotte County, promised after massive flooding in 2010, still hasn't materialized.
He suggested the funding should go to local first responders instead.
"Are we into a situation where we have a EMO organization that should be performing all of these tasks to make sure people are taken care of, or should we be spreading our resources to the local areas?"
Premier David Alward's office made backbench Tory MLA Carl Urquhart available to the media to respond to Doucet's criticisms.
But Urquhart could not say what happened to the Charlotte County emergency plan promised nearly three years ago.
"I've got no idea on that," he said. "I'm not a cabinet minister, I'm sorry."
The Department of Public Safety did not provide a response as to where the emergency plan stands.
Alward pledged in April 2011 to build emergency response capacity in Charlotte County.
"This program will bring responder organizations and the public and private sector to a common table to work on a comprehensive emergency plan for the community," he had said.
Then-Public Safety minister Robert Trevors said the two-year project would "make sure this region is prepared to respond to any future disaster."
More than 82,000 NB Power customers lost power at some point over the Christmas holidays, NB Power officials have said.
The St. Stephen and Rothesay areas were among the hardest hit. Some customers went about 12 days without heat or lights.
About 250 crews, including several from the northeastern United States, Nova Scotia and Quebec, worked around the clock to restore power.
NB Power says crews and contractors will be doing some additional cleanup Tuesday of 218 incidents related to the ice storm.
They will be working in Rothesay, Sussex, St. Stephen and Fredericton, and expect to have everything cleaned up by the end of the day Wednesday, officials said.
- An earlier version of this story referred to NB Power instead of EMO. CBC apologizes for the error.Jan 07, 2014 2:39 PM AT