EDITORIAL: Lessons of the ice storm

It’d be tempting to call the ice storm a wake-up call for Torontonians, if it weren’t that the best way for many of us to survive as our house temperatures plunged to near-zero was, in fact, to sleep — huddled together for warmth under piles of quilts.

Not to make light of the situation though.

For lone individuals, stranded seniors, the families of those who suffered inhalation of poisonous fumes and many others, the extended power outage during the coldest days of the season proved a tragedy.

If not for the tireless efforts of hydro and emergency service workers the consequences could have much even worse.

But next time we may not be so lucky. And there will be a next time, if we are to believe scientists who say the natural conditions could easily recur. Flash ice storms in areas like ours may become a more frequent feature of accelerating climate

Thus, the first lesson we may learn from what happened — to help prevent it recurring — is that we have to do more to try to stop climate change.

This, however, is beyond our scope in Toronto alone. So what local lessons have we learned from recent events? Let’s mention
a few in no particular order:

[list][*]• We have way too many trees overhanging vulnerable power lines on our streets. We don’t know if the solution is to trim and remove trees, to strengthen and bury power lines, or to take some other measures we laypeople haven’t thought of. But there needs to be expert study of this problem and steps taken to alleviate it.[*]• The city has too few staff and resources to deal with such a disaster in a timely fashion. Even with the heroic efforts of workers, thousands of people in this city were left without heat, light, communications and, in some cases, nourishment for over a week. This cannot stand. We need an emergency plan and the political will to bring in much more help at short notice.[*]• We cannot rely on the Internet. For years we’ve been hearing that this alternative network could work around disasters. Yet, how many of us also experienced loss of cable and phone signals during the power outage? How many of us could not access important information on the web or stored “in the cloud”? How many businesses could not process credit or debit cards even if they had power?[*]• For many people the only help they could rely on — the only information they could get — was from their friends, families and neighbours. That is, through direct local contact. The strengthening of our communities should be our first defence against natural and manmade disasters.[/list]
If we were cynical, we might also note another lesson of the storm was that in Toronto no situation is too dire to be taken political advantage of. But we’ll restrain our cynicism for now, in hopes of finding a serious discussion of positive steps that can be taken to prevent future debacles.

About this article:

By: Eric McMillan
Posted: Jan 9 2014 9:56 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto