Council hears tornado, flood post event review

CITY HALL – As is standard procedure for the City of Ottawa, last Wednesday (Sept. 23) council received an independent review on the city’s reaction to the 2018 tornado and 2019 extreme flooding.

Consultants Calian Emergency Management took council through a review to the two devastating weather events that brought destruction to the city and hit West Carleton particularly hard.

The Post Event Review is hoped to help the city maintain public confidence, save lives, protect public health, reduce economic and social losses, and protect infrastructure and property moving forward.

The 2018 tornado destroyed 60 homes and damaged 500 more. There were six serious injuries, with two of them in the Dunrobin area, but there were no fatalities. The city’s Emergency Operations Centre was in operation for 25 day.

ARAC chair Coun. Eli El-Chantiry says 'when you have a good plan, that's not sprawl,' following yesterday's council vote to expand the urban boundary. Photo by Jake Davies
Coun. Eli El-Chantiry says these post event reports help ensure best practices are constantly improved upon. Photo by Jake Davies

Calian says there were several improvements made to the emergency response following the tornado. The consultants listed the formalized liaison officer position; improved community engagement; early engagement of senior management; increased operational sustainability strategy development; a formalized volunteer registration process; and additional staff training to name a few.

Less than a year later, extreme flooding hit the city in the spring of 2019. West Carleton communities situated along the Ottawa River. More than 1.5 million sandbags were deployed, and 15,000 volunteers were rallied.

The flooding affected 42 square-kilometres of Ottawa. There was a 49-day state of emergency and the Emergency Operations Centre was operational for 60 days.

Calian said city staff handled both weather events well.

“Overall, the city’s response was well conducted and in accordance with existing plans, procedures and protocols,” the consultant wrote in the report.

Calian said the response of the combined efforts of city staff, non-governmental organizations, private entities and volunteers “resulted in minimal economic and social losses, while maintaining public confidence.”

They were equally positive about the flood response.

“The city conducted a well-coordinated response and recovery to the flood,” Calian said. “The level of dedications and commitment displayed by city staff was exceptional and greatly contributed to the high level of public confidence.”

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry says the report is a useful tool for the city to have.

“There was quite a bit of change from the 2017 flood (after extreme flooding that year),” El-Chantiry told West Carleton Online last Friday (Sept. 25). These reports help us make sure we don’t repeat mistakes.”

Professional consultants can provide a viewpoint the city might have overlooked while handling the emergency.

“They can shed some light,” El-Chantiry said. “There were some areas the city didn’t even know were damaged. You always learn from these things. There’s always room for improvement.”

But there were incredible successes as well, such as the establishment of the volunteer-run West Carleton Disaster Recovery (WCDR).

“I don’t want to lose sight of what we started,” El-Chantiry said. “There’s always a role for the community.”

El-Chantiry pointed to a multi-agency, some 40-plus, training drill held in Pinhey’s Point last year as something that is need more of.

“We need more training and graining for the volunteers,” El-Chantiry said. “We want to work with the volunteers, but we want the to be trained so we avoid any issues. And we need to engage with WCDR.”

El-Chantiry referred to an issue with wellness checks that arose during the flooding.

“We had three different organizations doing wellness checks,” he said. “We need to avoid duplication.”

But the community wants to help during these major events.

“Yes, they do, especially if it’s well organized,” El-Chantiry said. “We need to do a better job of registration.”

El-Chantiry was on the ground virtually every day of the 2017 flood, the 2018 tornado and the 2019 flood. He is the city councillor with the most experience dealing with major weather events and he shared that experience with the consultants.

“I’m one of the few councillors who have been through the most,” El-Chantiry said. “I had my thoughts and I felt my message got through.”