Saskatoon residents can expect more timely updates during public emergencies, say city officials.

An evening power outage earlier this month left hundreds of east side homes without electricity, during a cold snap where temperatures dipped below -40C.

Charlie Clark at Saskatoon city council

Councillor Charlie Clark represented hundreds of people left in the dark during the blackout January 5. On Monday evening, he urged city officials to use a variety of communications platforms to keep residents informed during public emergencies. (CBC)

The outage in Nutana, Haultain and Varsity View lasted several hours. Numerous residents complained their calls to Saskatoon Light & Power went unanswered. Others noted the city updated its online alert system only twice during that time, leaving residents confused about whether they ought to seek a shelter somewhere warmer overnight.

"Not everybody is on social media, and not everybody is following Twitter and the website," said Charlie Clark, city councillor for Ward Six. His own family also lost electricity during the outage. "We need to make sure we're covering a whole range of channels. Especially if you have a computer and that's it and it's down. Or you don't have a computer at all."

Changes underway

City administrators told people at Monday evening's council meeting they are currently making several changes.

  • At the time of the outage, Saskatoon Light & Power had only 20 incoming telephone lines. Many calls were dropped, or received a busy signal. Officials at the utility say they're currently expanding to 200 lines. They also say recorded messages on their main line will be updated more frequently during emergencies.
  • A city communications staff member will remain on call during emergencies. That person will be tasked with issuing alerts and updates online every 30 to 60 minutes. The staffer will also update social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and contact Saskatoon media outlets.
  • The city says it already issues service alerts during closures to leisure facilities, delays in garbage pick-up, and traffic detours, and will add additional services in the future. 
  • When the power has been out for one hour, the city may contact the Emergency Measures Office to take further action.
  • Fire officials are in the process of implementing a citywide notification system that can issue critical information to up to 300,000 residents using cell phones, landlines, texts and e-mails. They say the system would also be useful in delays with garbage pickup, water main breaks, and other service disruptions.