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Communication biggest hurdle during ice storm: EMO - Jan. 09, 2014


Kathy Bockus/Courier
Regional EMO coordinator Jason Cooling, right, confers with volunteer firefighter Carla Brown and Oak Bay deputy chief Jamie Russell about the next group of area homes to be heated with EMO-supplied industrial heating generators in the wake of power outages following the Dec. 21 ice storm.

Kathy Bockus
St. Stephen
Communication was the biggest challenge faced by EMO’s regional emergency management coordinator during the ice storm that crippled Charlotte County during the last weeks of December of 2013.
“For me, the biggest challenge was the communications aspect,” said Jason Cooling. “Direct communication, whether by cell (phone), email, UHF or VHF radio, the ability to get the message across quickly, to the public and to first responders.
“We have an antiquated infrastructure across the board in the province. We need to look at that infrastructure and bring it up to snuff.”
Another thing Cooling was made to realize he said is that volunteer fire departments in Charlotte County are underutilized.
“Seriously, we have to sit down with the volunteer fire departments. They have a wealth and base of knowledge there that is massive. These folks are underutilized. They were extremely impressive, very knowledgeable, capable and when chips were down, they were there.”
Cooling first reported to Charlotte County on Dec. 22 to view the initial impact of the ice storm. From Dec. 24 till around noon on New Year’s Day he was established in an EMO command centre at the Lawrence Station School, which was later relocated to the Oak Bay Fire Hall.
Asked if he had all the resources he required to respond to the emergency situation caused by a massive and lengthy power outage that affected the entire Charlotte County region, Cooling responded succinctly, “Absolutely!”
Cooling was questioned whether this most recent storm was worse than the impact a similar storm had in 1998 or a flood which hit the area unexpectedly in December of 2010.
“I wasn’t there in 1998,” Cooling responded, before adding there was “a different dynamic” to the 2010 flood situation.
Cooling said the task now is to prepare a regional report with information submitted by fire departments and any other agencies involved with the response effort.
“We’re going to sit down and have an after action report. We’re going to look at the good, the bad and the ugly.”
He said the report will not be made public and will be used to improve EMO’s general operations with the fire departments.
“We’ll look at how and what they did well, what information other departments can use and expand upon.
“We’ll use the report to shape the future for emergency management for Charlotte County.”
Cooling explained EMO’s primary role is to “mitigate and manage” a situation.
“There is a general misconception as to what EMO actually does,” said Cooling. “Emergency management is quite singular - we manage the emergency, coordinate through our partners, utilize the resources of the province, and coordinate those, through their respective supervisors, whether we call upon DOTI, the health department or Social Development.”
Cooling had nothing but high praise for the volunteer firefighters he worked with during the ice storm response.
“The amount of respect I have for volunteer fire service in the province … It was wonderful working with them,” he said.
“I hope I don’t have to work with them again, but if I do I hope it’s the guys in Charlotte County.”

kathy@stcroixcourier.ca