Power outage raises questions about preparedness

For some, a power outage throughout northeast Saskatchewan lasted more than 30 hours, prompting area municipalities to kick into emergency operations mode.

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During the morning of Dec. 30, power on Wadena’s Main Street had initially flickered, then gone off for only a few minutes. Then about 11:30 a.m. it went off completely, causing banks to close and businesses to shut down early.

Mayor Greg Linnen activated the Wadena emergency operations command centre to deal with what was to become a 10-hour outage. The first report covered the town crew’s management of water resources. The next consideration was the potential relocation of residents from Weneeda Park Lodge to the hospital for temporary shelter, as it is the only large facility in Wadena that has emergency power and heat.

As the temperature outside was nearly -30C, it also dropped in many homes; one resident reported a temperature of +7C indoors. Then, the concern was what to do for individual homeowners without supplemental power. Some residents sought shelter with friends and neighbours who did have heat, and some went out of town to Elfros and Foam Lake to seek heat. The question became how to accommodate those with no place to go.

The power was restored in Wadena by 9:30 p.m. while surrounding areas were still in the dark. Those who had generators used them or shared them with friends and relatives and made sure those in need of extra assistance received it. The next day local plumbers reported receiving many calls about furnaces that refused to turn back on after the power was restored.

In Kelvington, Mayor Trevor Lowey relayed a message on Twitter that the Kelvington-Legion Community Centre was open for those without power. Although the power went out around the same time as it did in Wadena, just after 3 p.m. the Town of Kelvington stated that it was already making preparations “in the event of a prolonged power outage.”

By 6:20 p.m., with telephone lines at the local hospital for those who needed a place to go. Town administrator Kelsey Robinson said the warming shelter was something Mayor Lowey took upon himself to arrange. Because it was more of a spontaneous thing than a pre-arranged plan, the only notice the town provided was through its Facebook page and the message urged people to check on their neighbours.

“A few people took advantage of the shelter,” said Robinson. Kelvington’s power was out for approximately 12 hours. Had it been out longer, she said, they may have considered going door-to-door. To complicate matters, problems getting the emergency generator hooked up at the hospital were reported on the 31st so the emergency department was closed and calls were diverted to other hospitals.

In Rose Valley, people got together and set up a generator at the recreation centre, as the outage lasted until around midnight. According to town administrator Marjorie Zarowny, volunteer firefighters went door-to-door helping their neighbours gather a few things to take with them to the rink.

“We had just installed a transfer switch at the rink this summer to allow us to use the generator,” said Zarowny. This had been in the plans for several years and she noted that it was timely, under the circumstances.

Some people offered rides to and from the rink, where the coffee was on and there were burgers for sale. Three local musicians entertained and card games were played to pass the time.

In Quill Lake, although no plans were made for a warming shelter, town administrator Judy Kanak reported that within the village the power was out for about 10 hours. The exception was one farm just outside of town; it had no electricity until 1 p.m. the following day, going without for close to 27 hours.

The outage in Archerwill was on the east side, which did not interrupt village services, said Councillor Karen Anderson. “The power did finally go out on the west side of town around 5:10 p.m. but came back on about two hours later.”

Neither the hall nor the rink were opened as a warming shelter. As the outage created a drop in water pressure, village foreman Chris Graham did a house-by-house blitz with a boil-water advisory. Anderson said that around 5 p.m., the service station had a large line-up of vehicles waiting to get fuel and the power went out shortly after.

“We are having a council meeting tonight (Thursday). The emergency plan will be on the agenda,” said Anderson. “We are trying to gather interested citizens willing to sit on the committee, as council members should not.

“These are terribly important issues to work out,” she added, “as our province deals with aging infrastructure and an influx of people creating more demand on power. One of the first steps we should be taking is having everyone take charge of their own 72-hour preparedness kit. People need to be advised to learn how to look after themselves and their own families for at least that long.”

SaskPower had so many outages reported that during the evening of Dec. 30 it posted a list of 46 communities affected. Later outages in some of the same areas included Kelvington, Lintlaw, Nut Mountain and Kuroki for about three hours on Jan. 4.

Going Forward

Some administrators have stated that they will be addressing shortfalls in their emergency plans, while others said there has been no discussion but it may soon be on the agenda.

“It was clear from this activation that the town’s emergency plan fell short in the area of viable emergency shelter during a sustained power outage,” said Wadena’s Emergency Measures Organization co-ordinator Pat Casement of the town’s predicament. “However, this and other shortcomings will be discussed at the next emergency-planning session on Jan. 15.

“With the train derailment this fall and the lengthy power outage this winter, emergency awareness has been brought to the fore,” he added. “Citizens are reminded to be sure they can safely take shelter immediately for at least 72 hours.”

Casement urges everyone to be prepared and follow the recommendations of the Government of Canada and the Red Cross to keep an emergency kit for such occasions. A well-stocked kit contains food and water, extra blankets, flashlights and a first-aid kit.

As one person stated, “Let this be a lesson to prepare! We live in the north. Weather happens. (SaskPower) crews worked overtime and most didn’t get Christmas.”

Growing discontent over the lack of linespeople to manage the outages caused some to express outrage over social media. With the Crown corporation’s layoffs of front-line people, one writer urged readers to contact their MLAs to protest the cuts and reduction of services that were causing linespeople to be working long hours of overtime.

The power outage has been blamed on the weight of hoarfrost built up on trees and powerlines over several weeks.

By Alison Squires and Pat Casement

 

Wadena News

306.338.2133.

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