Emergency Plan Tested During Bombardier Incident in Thunder Bay


Thunder BayTHUNDER BAY – Friday’s bomb scare at Thunder Bay’s Bombardier manufacturing facility brought Thunder Bay’s emergency plan into operation. Part of that plan was the use of buses from Thunder Bay Transit as temporary shelters for evacuated workers. It was also a demonstration by Thunder Bay Transit of how using modern technology, and including the use of social networking should be incorporated into the communications portion of Thunder Bay’s emergency plan.

At 12:44PM, the first message was broadcast out to the media from Thunder Bay Transit. A press release was sent out from City Hall. That was followed almost instantly by postings on Transit’s Facebook page and Twitter account. The message was simple: “December 9, 2011 – Due to an emergency situation, all buses have been pulled off regular route. More information to come.”

Jon Hendel, the spokesperson for Transit, speaking on the communications issue, said, “The only means of communication we have with passengers is media. After we were advised by fire dispatch to remove transit service, a press release was sent out to all media. The transit website, Nextbus signs, Facebook, Twitter, and phone system were then updated. Forty buses were sent to this as 1300 workers were evacuated with the conditions being unknown.”

Communications during emergencies means using all possible venues. Yesterday, the first online reporting of the incident was on Netnewsledger.com at 12:54PM. Our site beat The Giant 105.3’s website by three minutes. The Giant posted the news at 12:57 PM. Jeff Walters of CBC Thunder Bay had the story tweeted before 1:00PM, and The Chronicle Journal posted the information just after 1:00PM. Dougall Media was out with the story at 1:31PM on TBNewswatch.

The City of Thunder Bay had the information posted on the City’s Facebook page by 1:00PM as well. Thunder Bay Transit, in using social media, is demonstrating the leadership in this area that needs to be included in other departments, as well as in a review of Thunder Bay’s emergency plan.

The realization in our community that potentially thousands of people are using wireless devices, and smartphones needs to be fully included in communications planning. On Friday afternoon, on NetNewsledger, 359 people accessed information on the situation at Bombardier via their wireless devices. Of that group of readers, 251 were first time visitors to NNL. For interests sake, 128 users were on their Iphone, 32 on their Ipad, 25 on their Ipod, 14 were on their Blackberry device, and 10 were accessing the information on their Sony Erickson Lt15i smart device. 129 were on unspecified devices. (Source: Google Analytics) Demonstrating that Tbaytel holds a firm foothold in Thunder Bay 106 of those users were on Tbaytel. Seventy of the people were accessing NNL via Shaw. Fifty-nine were on RIM to access the news.

There is a lot of room to grow of course in the wireless access of the Internet in our city. Only about 2.5% of the average daily traffic on NNL is through a wireless device or smartphone. However that represents a doubling of the figure over the past six months. It is likely that other online sites are experiencing similar growth figures.

The changing technology also means changes on websites as well. NetNewsledger.com has in recent weeks recognizing the trend, created a new mobile device friendly site, and Brett Malinowski our Chief Technology Officer is working on a new and improved version which will be released shortly for beta testing on NNL. NetNewsledger.com is the first local news and information portal in Northern Ontario to offer a mobile site for our readers.

The area of communications in Thunder Bay continues to be an issue that grows in importance. Sources at City Hall tell NetNewsledger that there are a lot more changes coming from the City to improve overall communications.

That is a positive that all of us here in the community should be endorsing. Through the process of gathering news on Friday afternoon, from the Thunder Bay Fire/EMS radio, it appeared there was some of the confusion in terms of communications that Bombardier employees were expressing. When the incident started at lunch, most employees thought it was a drill. Likely some were even somewhat reluctant to venture out. Several employees have commented on getting little information from the company.

Perhaps what is needed as a part of the City’s emergency plan is for information to be supplied to larger employers to allow them resources to communicate with their workers during an emergency via wireless devices?

Lakehead University has such a program in place. The City of Thunder Bay’s Emergency Plan is also online.

“The City’s plan includes:

Procedure for declaring an emergency

Communication strategy including plans for a communications centre to provide information to the public, and an information hotline

Emergency Operations Centre for coordination of emergency services

Resource Directory listing for volunteer assistance (Amateur Radio, Salvation Army, St. John Ambulance, Lakehead Search and Rescue, Canadian Red Cross, etc.) as well as equipment and facilities (buses for evacuation, food and recreation centres for evacuees)

Resource Directory listing for volunteer assistance (Amateur Radio, Salvation Army, St. John Ambulance, Lakehead Search and Rescue, Canadian Red Cross, etc.) as well as equipment and facilities (buses for evacuation, food and recreation centres for evacuees)

Possible Reception Centres to receive evacuees or serve as communication hubs in the event telephone service is out”

One area not listed on the City website is planning for businesses. That might be an area where a greater level of information could be provided.

An area where there appears to be a shortfall is the Thunder Bay Police Service. The level of communications between the Fire Department and Police were at times confusing yesterday based on some of the requests for information being shared with units on the scene at Bombardier and the Dispatch.

The Thunder Bay Police Service is not yet on the leading edge yet when it comes to embracing social media. Police services like Toronto, Edmonton and others have taken the approach that they must be where the people will be, as part of their community policing. There are signs that things are on a path toward improvement however. www.thunderbaypolice.ca has been registered. That new site currently points to the police page on the main City of Thunder Bay site. There has been the inclusion of an email address on the TBPS website, but as of yet no move toward having minor incidents being able to be reported online.

For the City of Thunder Bay, and for the Thunder Bay Police Service there are concerns about Internet use. There are issues regarding security and privacy. However when Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary as a few examples have led the way, there is certainly the opportunity for real progress. Thunder Bay Transit is likely a great place to start building up better communications and using the online potential.

Overall, communications from the City of Thunder Bay and especially from Transit were excellent and demonstrated an understanding of how a good grasp of technolgy during a crisis is important.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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