It is in times of emergency that we come to appreciate the very basic needs of our lives.
The ice storms of December left many of us (including me!) in the dark throughout much of the winter holiday season and forced us in many ways to stop and think, not only about all that we have but also how the city handles emergencies of this kind.
The impacts of climate change are now a reality in Toronto, and we will need to be ever more prepared in the future.
Even though Environment Canada had forewarned us of the impending ice storms, it became clear as power outages were happening and the temperatures were dropping that this severe ice storm would have far-reaching impact.
In the aftermath of the storm, city council called a special meeting in early January to discuss and review the manner in which city staff and Toronto Hydro responded to the emergency. Council gave direction to report back on changes to our emergency protocols and preparations to help make Toronto a “resilient city” in the future.
Toronto was hit harder than ever before in 2013, between the July 8 rain storm and the December 21 ice storm. The costs of these two storms will completely wipe out the city’s extreme weather reserve funds. After a heated debate, council voted unanimously to seek funding — split three ways between the city and the provincial and federal governments — to cover the $171 million in storm-related costs.
I moved two motions during this council debate. The first was to thank city staff and other public and private workers that gave up their holidays and worked tirelessly in order to provide the necessary services and assistance.
As well, I would like to express my gratitude to the residents who demonstrated patience and courage and were a constant source of mutual cooperation during the storm. I particularly want to thank all those who demonstrated true community spirit in helping neighbours, volunteering at the city’s warming centers, and assisting in clearing roads and sidewalks.
My second motion was to direct Toronto Hydro to report on integrating its call centre, which proved unable to keep up with demand, with the city’s main 3-1-1 call centre. The 3-1-1 line is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operation with much greater capacity.
The motion also asked Hydro to report to council on a plan to bury all above-ground hydro lines over the next generation. This will be an extensive endeavour but, pending a report back, it is one that I believe will be worthwhile in our city.
The efforts to get the city back to “normal” are ongoing. Currently, ice storm debris removal is being carried out simultaneously in all wards across the city. A third-party review should be conducted now, after the worst is over, to illuminate how the city, including Toronto Hydro, can improve methods of response and learn from the 2013 ice storm. It is through such necessary preparations and sense of community that we can successfully maintain and support our city and fellow residents in times of chaos and need.
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