An icy reminder on the importance of emergency preparedness
“Welcome to the new normal,” says Marisa Dodaro, Property Manager of Gower Park Place in Toronto. Gower Park Place, a 164-unit high rise building in Toronto’s east end, was without power for 42 hours after heavy ice coated hydro wires and downed trees. They were one of the lucky ones. Many more areas of the City and the province were without power for days.
“As much as you test your backup system, you won’t really know if it works until something happens.” Gower Park Place staff did all the right things, they ran the generator each week, monitored the fuel, tested the system twice a year and had the generator serviced just months before the storm. The generator kicked in right away to power the emergency lighting, fire safety system and boiler plant. Tenants had access to running water, hot water and the use of one elevator.
Staff encouraged vulnerable tenants to stay with friends or relatives who still had power. The common rooms were opened, giving tenants a place to congregate and avoid isolation. Tenants who have limited mobility were invited to remain in common rooms overnight if they chose not to go back up to their unit in the dark. What didn’t work? Many of the challenges that Gower Park Place experienced during the power outage can be attributed to tenants being unprepared. In the 90 minutes after the power went out, the pager system registered 40 pages. Thankfully, none of the calls were real emergencies. The system worked but it was apparent that staff needed to do more to educate tenants about emergency preparedness.
Tenants came together in the common rooms. A local mosque brought warm beverages and meals. But, residents were not prepared for the difficulties of preparing food without power. Perishable food spoiled and the lack of power made it impossible to warm the groceries they had on hand.
Few residents had corded phones not dependent on electricity and were in a panic to charge their phones to stay in touch with family and friends. Going forward, tenants with landlines will be encouraged to keep corded phones in case of future emergencies.
A debrief with staff after the power was restored helped to identify gaps in emergency supplies and where protocols could be improved. Some suggestions were:
- Have a battery-operated radio on hand for weather and news updates.
- Install a dedicated power supply that can be run on the generator for charging phones and warming food.
- Know where you can get fuel to keep the generator running. Local fuel delivery was available, but what if the entire city was without power? Identify alternate suppliers outside of your community.
- Educate tenants and help them prepare themselves for emergencies like power outages.
- Have a plan in place to deal with downed trees and other debris that may fall onto the property from adjacent properties.
And Marisa’s last piece of advice: “Be aware of what has changed in the environment and look for changes in building systems that might not show up right away. Your emergency plan will always be a work in progress. Tighten up your protocols, run-throughs and brief your board of directors.”
Wondering what you can do to prepare for future emergencies? Contact Member Support at 1-800-297-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org for help!