January 2, 2014
TORONTO – What have city politicians and bureaucrats learned in the wake of the ice storm that left thousands in the dark and freezing for days?
The Toronto Sun asked some key players tasked with responding to the Dec. 21-22 storm what lessons they learned from the crisis.
Mayor Rob Ford (at the last ice storm press conference)
“The people (of Toronto) taught us the lessons. I think we did everything possible. It showed people can take care of themselves and come together. Strangers that didn’t even know each other were taking people in.”
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly
“One of the responsibilities of the emergency committee is to conduct a post mortem so, in our meeting last Monday, we reviewed the efforts to date and what came out of that meeting was an understanding that we had to take all of the lessons learned and put them together in a post mortem.
“There are two things off the top that resonate with me. One is the ability to let people know where they stood in the (hydro) queue. If you don’t know (where) in terms of your house or your neighbourhood being repaired or the power being restored, then you’re frustrated and that frustration can turn into anger.
“The second one is, how do you communicate to the most vulnerable? How do you do that? One of the things I will suggest is that every apartment building in the city, rental and/or condo, should legislatively have a safety monitor (so) when there is an emergency that person would have the responsibility to knock on the doors to see who may need special help.”
City of Toronto spokesman Deborah Brown
“We have been consumed with the response to the storm over the holidays and have not yet had a formal opportunity for a post mortem. I expect that we will receive similar questions from councillors at the special council meeting on Friday and will be prepared to answer then.”
Toronto Hydro spokesman Tanya Bruckmueller
“Over the next few weeks we’ll be assessing what went well, and what improvements can be made. We recognize that the call centre response was a key area of frustration and we’re looking into how that can be improved during storms.”
TTC CEO Andy Byford
“The main challenge for the TTC was streetcar operation, which was seriously impeded by the sheer thickness of the ice on the overhead wires. Although we ran ‘storm cars’ fitted with equipment called cutters and sliders that, under normal icing conditions, keep the wires free, it was so thick that we had to suspend the service until crews went round clearing it by hand overnight on the Sunday.
“Overall, I think the TTC responded well to the storm. We substituted buses for streetcars and we ran bus shuttles (between) the subway (stops) when we lost sections due to trees on the line or temporary loss of power. Being able to substitute buses is only possible because we have an integrated, multi-modal system, one of the strengths of the TTC.
“There are learning points and things we could do better and we holding a debrief to capture these. But, I am very proud of the way TTC staff pulled out all the stops to keep Toronto moving, especially those overhead crews that, literally, hand cleared miles of streetcar wires.”
Councillor Joe Mihevc
“Communication, communication, communication. I would symbolize it by how hard it was to talk to a human being (at Toronto Hydro). I was fearful during this one. I was the chair during SARS so I’ve been through these emergencies. This one, it really frightened a lot of us.
“We are lucky, we are frankly lucky, that we didn’t suffer a death. We need to do a lot more around emergency preparedness.”
Councillor Josh Matlow
“I think the city needs to be more proactive about ensuring there are adequate resources available for events such as the ice storm and be more proactive about pruning trees and ensuring that the city is prepared over all.
“I think Toronto Hydro needs to improve its communications, not give false suggestions about timing — such as suggesting that things would be done in 72 hours … also their website was always out of date, their map didn’t work.
“On a personal note, I’m going to be speaking with my staff about ensuring that I give them the head’s up before holidays come that I may need more support in my office if events like this happen. I personally responded to more than 1,700 e-mails over Christmas along with doing everything that was necessary at the time to help residents.”
— With files from Jenny Yuen
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