Is your community prepared for the next natural disaster?

Talking points that will make any municipal politician sweat

TORONTO, ON, Jun 22, 2014/ Troy Media/ – I’m sure you’ve met your city councilor or even Mayor. Come election time you may get a knock at the door or be invited to a coffee party. You’ve surely seen the signs asking for your input on a new plan to do something. These are in City Hall or the affected neighbourhood.

You may not want to engage in these opportunities – the conversations are sometimes awkward. But I want to provide you with “talking points” so you’ll feel comfortable at your own door or any civic event.

Talking points are what politicians get their staff to write so they’ll sound on top of issues at your door or in media interviews. I’ve written these for Mayor’s and other politicians and happy to do so for you.

First, look up the crisis history of your municipality. I’ve lived through the Fredericton flood, moved to Regina right after that flood and was in Toronto for recent ice storms and blackouts. Long before my time in Vancouver, more than 50 per cent of the Fraser Valley was underwater. We’ve had a Tsunami on the Burrin Peninsula in Newfoundland, a rock slide in Quebec City, the Edmonton tornado and the Calgary flood. Bad things have happened in your home town.

I’m not sure how prepared your home town is for these kinds of events, but I’ll bet you won’t be happy when you find out. You can find out by asking a few simple and reasonable questions.

The questions, or talking points, are these:

1. Do we have a plan to keep people in their homes and offices for three to five days while the crisis blows over?

2. Where should we go if asked to evacuate?

3. Is there any food or water stockpiled there?

4. How will we get there if the roads are impassible?

5. How many evacuees will fit in all our city buses and other transport systems?

6. Do you have a plan for the emergency delivery of gasoline to stranded cars?

7. Do you have co-management agreements with other nearby municipalities?

8. Do we have a by-law requiring large buildings, schools and sports arenas to be prepared to host a capacity crowd for three days?

9. What’s our plan for the large percentage of residents who self-identify as having mobility challenges?

10. What’s the plan to communicate with people when there’s a power outage?

That last one is a double-trick question. Your civic official or hydro company may brag about using social media – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube and so on – to get the message out. But what if you have no power to access them? “Batteries” the civic or hydro official will tell you. Then you can come back by saying that lives should not depend on just happening to use social media and just happening to have charged up batteries. If you get any more argument, just point out that dozens of people will be flocking to buildings with power and trying to share one plug to charge up. If that’s doesn’t blow a circuit, it will sure take a long time and might lead to altercations.

In some American jurisdictions, they’ve gone back to the future with old-fashioned signs, door-knob hangers and even door-knocking to inform vulnerable people. Some hydro trucks feature LED signs that can transmit the latest information and loud speakers can provide announcements in multiple languages. Does yours?

Have fun with your civic officials. Bring them down from the Twitterverse clouds –way down to where real people live and work. You’ll need plain information on which pharmacy is open, where to get gas, when power’s coming back on, whether to stay put or evacuate and so on.

Get the information you need and make sure a safe system is in place now. Getting what you need the day you need it is far too late.

Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our times on five continents for 25 years. He loves cities and his latest book will be titled Safe Cities.

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