New Brunswick

Municipalities call for clear emergency plans before next disaster

The Union of New Brunswick Municipalities called on the province Thursday to establish clear-cut emergency plans for municipalities when disaster strikes.

Group says province needs consistent emergency response plans for ice storms and other calamities

A crew from Saint John Energy helped restore power to Lamèque after the January ice storm. (Saint John Energy/Twitter)

A group speaking for cities, towns and villages called on the province Thursday to create clear emergency plans for disasters such as the ice storm that hit the Acadian Peninsula.

"A storm or condition like this one is unique and it has to have a plan that's very solid and outright, so all the responders are aware of who's going where and who's doing what," said Bev Gaston, mayor of Doaktown and president of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick.

A report on the January ice storm, released by senior civil servant Judy Wagner last week, made 51 recommendations aimed at strengthening the government's responses to natural disasters and emergencies.

I don't think it's consistently co-ordinated so that we all play from the same playbook.- Bev Gaston, head of municipalities group

The three-day ice storm this year caused widespread power failures and claimed two lives.

Wagner said municipalities need to be better prepared for natural disasters.  

But to do that, Gaston said, they need to be part of a greater response chain, so they can provide what residents need.

"Municipalities are prepared for certain happenings in their communities," he said. "This was an unusual happening … that takes training and being informed." 

Lack of communication

During a storm or flood, municipalities have emergency measure plans to follow, but they need a stronger, provincewide policy, "so responders can say, 'OK this is what they're doing in other areas, here's where I can call for help, or here's where I can call for information,'" Gaston said.

"I don't think it's consistently co-ordinated so that we all play from the same playbook."

He said he hopes the province will hear municipalities' concerns about the lack of a consistent policy and seek their ideas before the next crisis, especially since so many emergency responders are volunteers.

"We certainly need to be at the table … so we're in the first line of making decisions," said Gaston, whose group represents 60 municipalities.

"We know what we need in our areas." 

Power crews had to replace broken hydro poles in Lamèque. (NB Power/Twitter)

For example, there needs to be a local representative in each area who can inform people of where to go during a major event, he said.

"In most cases, we're the first contact with residents within the province," he said.  

Gaston said the January ice storm underscored a lack of communication between residents and first responders, and people did not know whom to call when their power went out.

Can happen anytime

"There is a communication breakdown somewhere in the chain," he said.  

It's important to get a new system underway as soon as possible, he said, since something like the January storm can happen anytime.

Proper training is also an important element in disaster preparation, Gaston said.

Ice freezes to power lines following January storm. (NB Power)

He pointed to icy roads roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines on the Acadian Peninsula, saying firefighters need to know how to get through those areas safely.

They also need to be trained in the co-ordination of efforts, since firefighters from different municipalities have to work together during a crisis.

Gaston said he's hopeful Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry will accept Wagner's recommendations and put them in place as soon as possible.

Robert Duguay, a spokesperson for New Brunswick EMO, said a committee of deputy ministers will work with internal and external partners to develop an action plan to respond to the recommendations in the report.

"Some of the recommendations can be implemented fairly quickly, while others will require more in-depth consultation with our partners," said Duguay in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"The goal of the ice storm report is to improve our collective level of preparedness for future severe weather events and emergency situations. It is important to learn from this experience and find ways to improve our processes and how we work together."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton