COLUMN: Storm lessons noteworthy

Most Metro Vancouver residents poorly prepared for disaster.

Surrey was likely the hardest-struck area of all the many parts of B.C. affected by Saturday’s windstorm.

As of Tuesday night, fewer than 2,000 of the 710,000 customers who had lost power as a result of the storm were waiting for restoration of service. Most of them were in Surrey.

On Monday morning, when slightly more than 50,000 customers were waiting for electricity, more than 20,000 of them were in Surrey. There were 137 separate outages in Surrey still awaiting repair at that time, according to BC Hydro’s website.

The outages were not restricted to one area of Surrey, although rural areas and those with many large trees were the hardest-hit. There were outages in Whalley, Newton, Fleetwood, Cloverdale, Ocean Park and Port Kells – among others.

Some only involved five customers, but as of 11 a.m. Monday, the largest single remaining outage in Surrey affected 3,986 customers, with several others affecting more than 3,000 customers each.

It is clear from the reaction to the widespread outage that many people are poorly prepared for a disaster. When there is a large earthquake, as will happen at some point in the future, this outage will seem like a picnic. There will be much more widespread damage in an earthquake, and low-lying areas will almost certainly be affected by a tsunami.

However, has the City of Surrey taken proper precautions to prepare for a major emergency?

The fire department and police seem to have coped reasonably well with the massive number of calls for service. They were helped by the fact that there was minimal effect on their infrastructure from the windstorm.

The two hospitals seem to have coped well. There have been no concerns raised about patients suffering as the result of a lack of supply of electricity, which is vital in any hospital.

Most major roads remained open, although some were shut down because of trees, power lines or both across the road. Many traffic lights were out, and too many drivers were not following the four-way stop procedure.

Transit service was hit-and-miss, but kept operating.

BC Hydro did not do a good job in giving people information about the storm, and when they could expect power to come back on. That meant they could not make good decisions about their food, for example.

This was made much worse by the shutdown of BC Hydro’s website at the height of the power outage, and the lack of a reasonable backup.

Hydro crews and contractors did do a good job of fixing power lines as quickly as possible, as I saw firsthand on my street, where crews worked both Saturday and Sunday to replace two fallen poles and their transformers, and string lines up. There was a long delay in getting power back to customers on our street, but it was at least partially due to problems in other areas.

One of the least-remarked aspects of this outage was phone service.

Those with Telus land lines were able to keep service, for the most part – unless lines had fallen. Those with Shaw land lines lost service.

Cellphones were working at most times and in most areas, but not always. The high demand on the cellphone system did cause some temporary losses of service.

What will happen if there is an earthquake? Will the cellphone service be even more affected by intensive use?

The public needs clear answers on what is likely to happen in such a scenario. It is a certainty that there needs to be significantly more investment in cellphone infrastructure in Surrey, given the growth in population and expected future growth.

The city’s tree policy may have contributed, in a small way, to some trees remaining standing until they blew down in Saturday’s windstorm. It needs to be easier to cut down trees that pose a risk to the electric, telephone and cable wires along most major streets.

That includes trees on private property – not just those on road allowances.

There are lessons to learn from this windstorm, and hopefully decision-makers are taking heed. There will be another disaster, and it may be even worse than this one.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

Just Posted

City of Surrey says pension benefits ‘guaranteed’ for police recruits

A National Police Federation representative says it may not be enough incentive

Surrey-area teens will have a ball at Christmas, thanks to collection effort

Realty company’s Bring on the Balls campaign now in its third year

Surrey groups receive funding for training support for people 55-plus

PICS getting $728K to help 120 people over two years

City ready for ride-hailing, says Delta mayor

The city has set up business licence fees for ride-hailing on par with what taxis in Delta pay

White Rock financial plan discussions reveal divide

Mayor Darryl Walker favours tax increase, some councillors don’t

VIDEO: More air-passenger rights go into effect this weekend

The first set of passenger rights arrived in mid-July in Canada

Swoop airlines adds three destinations in 2020 – Victoria, Kamloops, San Diego

Low-fair subsidiary of WestJet Airlines brings new destinations in April 2020

Aid a priority for idled Vancouver Island loggers, John Horgan says

Steelworkers, Western Forest Products returning to mediation

Navigating ‘fever phobia’: B.C. doctor gives tips on when a sick kid should get to the ER

Any temperature above 38 C is considered a fever, but not all cases warrant a trip to the hospital

UPDATED: Investigators confirm three died in B.C. plane crash

Transport Canada provides information bulletin, family of victim releases statement

Prime Minister sets 2025 timeline for plan to remove fish farms from B.C. waters

Foes heartened by plan to transition aquaculture found in Fisheries minister mandate letter

Planning price tag for futuristic ‘We Town’ concept in Abbotsford revealed

Developer says highrises would house 30,000, but Abbotsford mayor says project is in wrong place

Federal justice minister looks to larger reforms on doctor-assisted death

The Quebec Superior Court gave Ottawa just six months — until March 2020 — to amend the law

1,300-signature petition for free menstrual products turned over to UFV president

‘Go with the flow’ campaign calls for all University of the Fraser Valley bathrooms to be stocked

Most Read

l -->