Use of EMO resources for Gallant's news conferences questioned in ice storm report
Front-line emergency response staff shouldn't be distracted by politicians, report says
A report on the devastating ice storm on the Acadian Peninsula criticizes the resources EMO dedicated to preparing for Premier Brian Gallant's news conferences, suggesting it had a ripple effect on valuable services.
The report was especially concerned about the use of the communications director assigned to the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization to write Gallant's speeches.
"This assignment took his efforts away from his normal tasks, and as a result he did not have time to produce emergency public information for NB EMO," says the report prepared by James Bruce Security and Emergency Management Services.
"This forced NB EMO staff to produce the required product, which diverted them from their primary duties."
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The storm that struck New Brunswick near the end of January was especially harsh on the Acadian Peninsula, where it toppled trees and power poles and left many people without power, some for up to 11 days. About 133,000 homes and businesses lost power at some point, and two people died.
The report on the response to the storm praises the quality of the news conferences Gallant and officials gave after the ice storm toppled trees and power poles on the Acadian Peninsula.
But the report suggests that in future, politicians and others giving news conferences draw upon senior personnel from EMO who are not involved in the front-line work of an emergency.
Use of personnel
In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Brian Macdonald, Progressive Conservative MLA for Fredericton West-Hanwell, questioned whether Gallant's news conferences during the widespread power failures were beneficial.
"I think if the premier wants to lead from the front, he's got to add some value," said Macdonald, who is the party's critic for military affairs and health.
"And I question, and this report seems to question, whether or not premier Gallant going to the ice storm actually added any value at all. In this case, he was taking away resources, so that's a concern."
By being there he took resources away from the main crisis.- Brian Macdonald, Progressive Conservative MLA
The report also said the news conferences took up the time of an unspecified number of front-line workers and administrative staff for New Brunswick EMO.
"During the information collection phase, at least three members of the Premier's support team were asking the same basic questions of different people," the report says.
"It was also noticed that frontline workers were in attendance during the daily media conferences."
Macdonald said these problems were part of the premier's "media circus."
"By being there he took resources away from the main crisis."
The report also talks about an unnamed minister who asked for a generator for a small water-distribution plant.
The generator was not able to restore power to the plant, but the report says the affected residents were already being supplied drinking water another way.
Macdonald said this was "inappropriate political interference in a crisis," adding the New Brunswick EMO should be making the decisions on resource allocation.
"For politicians to get involved in reallocating resources, I don't think that's appropriate," he said.
Takeaways of the review
Gallant's office said in an email Tuesday that the news conferences were "critical" but acknowledged they should not distract from an emergency response.
"Public communications is critical in the age of social media and 24-hour news," the office wrote. "One of the takeaways is the need to find a way to ensure that the public's right to know can be addressed without distracting from emergency operations. We cannot choose one or the other but must do both."
The review, which was made public earlier this week, recommends that in future emergencies, communications staff of the executive council office organize and present news conferences.
It also suggests the use of an information-collection matrix to be developed to cut down on the amount of time spent gathering information from those responding to the emergency.
"The matrix should identify the type and depth of the information required, identify the person/organization tasked to provide it, and the delivery time," the report says.
With files from Gabrielle Fahmy