PEI

P.E.I. did 'fantastic job' on Dorian, but room for improvement: consultant

P.E.I.'s response to post-tropical storm Dorian last year was well co-ordinated and overall very strong, said a company hired by the government, but there is room for improvement, particularly in managing staff and resources and communications procedures.

Independent report into province's emergency response released Monday morning

This image shows just some of the damage caused by Dorian at Crystal Beach Campground last year. (Mackayla Morrison/Facebook)

Prince Edward Island's response to post-tropical storm Dorian last year was well co-ordinated and overall very strong, says a report released Monday that nevertheless call for better management of staff and resources, improved communications procedures, and technology that is able to withstand widespread outages.

The province contracted Calian Emergency Management Solutions late last year to conduct a review of the government's response to Dorian, which walloped the Island in September of 2019.

The storm knocked out power for thousands, causing flooding and wreaking general havoc across Atlantic Canada. It also plowed down trees, ate chunks out of coastal areas prone to erosion, and left boulders strewn across some beaches.

Sandy Lavigne, one of the authors of Monday's report, called the storm "unique" but said the P.E.I. Emergency Measures Organization "did an outstanding job" in its response, considering both the extent and duration of the storm.

"The response overall was very effective and I do want to stress the province did a fantastic job," she said, but there is room for improving processes.

Community-based emergency responses were "exceptional," she said. However, the company listed three interconnected priorities that should be reviewed as soon as possible to ensure improved responses in a similar emergency situation: 

  • The creation of an interdepartmental roster of staff and their emergency response training, allowing for the tracking of everyone who has specific emergency response training capabilities.
  • The province's crisis communications plan, which was not implemented during Dorian, needs updating — with a specific focus on including vulnerable populations who might not have internet access.
  • The province's technical capabilities need to be reviewed to ensure resiliency in the face of power outages.
Post-tropical storm Dorian, when it hit P.E.I., downed power lines, toppled trees and caused flooding in some areas. (Julie Shea/Facebook)

Lack of emergency training for some staff

When it comes to resource management, the review found there was a drop in morale as some staff grew exhausted, Lavigne said. It was also difficult to have a proper staff rotation to minimize fatigue, due to the sheer duration of the event and response.

There was "definitely a lack of emergency training" for some staff that became an issue when Dorian hit, Lavigne said. Emergency scenario training and discussions before such an event are vital to ensuring staff are not only adequately prepared to respond, but also braced for the mental strain they will experience.

Parks Canada has decided to keep Cavendish Campground in P.E.I. National Park closed for the 2020 season because of the severe damage caused by post-tropical storm Dorian. (P.E.I. National Park)

An interdepartmental roster would help minimize the number of staff tasked with more than one job at a time, as well as ensuring employees are given the most appropriate tasks for their abilities, Lavigne said.

In addition to staff management, equipment resources should be reviewed, she said, and the province should consider moving to a cloud-based email server to ensure communication can be maintained when power and phone lines go down.

Pick a 'face' for the public

When it comes to communication, members of the public surveyed earlier this year said they would have liked a centralized space to host all updates.

The public was seeking information on road safety, food safety and restoration times, for example, but had to scour multiple sources for what they wanted to know. The report suggests the creation of a dashboard portal where all of those updates would live.

Citizens also suggested having a single and consistent spokesperson to offer updates and communication, someone who is aware of emergency communication and management protocols.

"They were looking for that face to help them better understand what was going on," Lavigne said.

Tree removal companies, like Branch Manager Tree Service, pictured here in December, were still busy in the winter cleaning up from Dorian. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The crisis communications plan was not activated, and that could have alleviated some of the issues encountered, but that plan also is in need of an update, Lavigne said.

A particular point of concern is the lack of communicating with vulnerable populations, who typically do not have an online presence. During Dorian, a lot of communications updates were issued on social media, but the most vulnerable would not have access to that.

"The communications plan doesn't really address that side," Lavigne said, adding that should be modified in the updated emergency communications plan.

Ensuring equipment up to date

The report's third focus was technical resilience — mainly, ensuring a power interruption does not create vulnerabilities in critical technology that supports an effective response. Communications were compromised immediately after the storm that affected the exchange of information required for decision-making, the report says.

The EMO should review the state of its backup equipment — for example, generators required to power data centres — to ensure replacements are readily available.

There was also some equipment that was no longer compatible, slowing down the process. Some staff didn't have passwords or other access to laptops with suitable credentials in order to do their work, for example, the report states, and some larger pieces of equipment were nearing the end of their life cycle, meaning they could have failed.

They were looking for that face to help them better understand what was going on.- Sandy Lavigne, one of the report's authors

"Thankfully they didn't," Lavigne said, but had they failed during the widespread outage, there could have been larger consequences.

Equipment nearing the end of its lifecycle should therefore be decommissioned, the report states, and the EMO should ensure its partner organizations have proper training to request response equipment to get their work done.

The full report has been released on the government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Parks Canada had decided to keep Cavendish Park closed for the 2020 season; it was actually Cavendish campground in P.E.I. National Park.
    Jul 27, 2020 4:18 PM AT

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