Disaster planning and management needs a full review

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ThinkTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – During any major disaster there is usually a process that has people being asked not to question or second guess the rescue mission on the ground while it is going on. There is, however a time when asking questions or demanding action can make a difference. The collapse of part of the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake is one of those times that points to the need for a review of emergency planning procedures. The mall collapsed on Saturday afternoon. Rescue efforts started, then stalled due to the decision that things in the mall were way too risky for rescue workers.

In Thunder Bay at the end of May, a massive rainstorm caused severe flooding in a number of neighbourhoods, and in surrounding townships and communities a number of roadways were washed out. The City declared a state of emergency. In Thunder Bay, the Premier has yet to make a statement. In Elliot Lake, it took strong words from Premier Dalton McGuinty to get rescue efforts moving again. When the mission shifted from rescue to recover, there were still signs of life coming from under the rubble.

That it took the Premier to state what should have been obvious is a strong signal that something is wrong in the emergency planning protocols.

In Thunder Bay in the weeks following the flooding disaster there are two class action law suits being launched. One seeks $300 million from the City of Thunder Bay, another seeks $500 million from the province.

It is likely that families in Elliot Lake may soon, if not already be talking with lawyers.

The process of how emergency efforts are coordinated, one might think in the post 911 world would be far smoother.

Yet as we are witnessing in Elliot Lake, things are not as smooth, or as coordinated as they could be. It is a major concern. If for example the collapse of what is not a large shopping mall has generated the delays, the confusion and the apparent lack of smooth provincial and federal efforts, we must be asking what would happen in the event of a major disaster to a Toronto sky-scraper, or some other terror attack?

Dalton McGuinty states, “In the coming days, we will take the time to review the events as they unfolded to ensure we learn any lessons to be had. All Ontarians are committed to having a world class emergency response program in place at all times”.

The fact of the matter is that the leadership and planning should be in place before, not after a disaster. The communications protocols, and the charting of who will be in charge during a disaster must be in place long before a disaster. It appears there are several layers of disconnect here, and that the full process should be re-examined.

In light of the disaster in Elliot Lake, the word coming out is that all provinces and communities should invest time to evaluate their emergency plans.

One hopes that the process starts, and is an open process that allows full accountability.

James Murray

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