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Lessons from an ice storm


Is there an all-encompassing contingency plan for emergencies like power outages?

That’s the question I was asking myself the night of December 21 when an ice storm befell us and the power got knocked out for 30 hours.

We were considerably lucky-elsewhere in the city of Toronto and across the province, people endured days on end with no electricity.

We had warmth from a gas fireplace and lots of water and food.

But even for the just-30 hours of being without electrical power it was easy to see how I might need to rethink my emergency plan.

It became immediately evident how protected we all are from the harshness of the elements, from war, from the everyday inconveniences known in too many parts of the world.

It was also a little frightening to be cut off from the things on which we’ve grown to depend. When my son got the flu in the middle of the outage, it was no longer a fun camping party and I just wanted to get him somewhere else. Some people do not have this option.

I’ve had a suitcase packed since a propane plant exploded in Toronto several years ago.

That turned out to be, needless to say, rather useless to me this time around.

My usual ATM was without power and you couldn’t drive very far without risking getting hit by falling icy branches or hydro lines. Believe me it’s hard to plan a route that has only right turns as you try to negotiate through blackened intersections.

Went to fill the gas tank at one of the few stations with fuel-had to prepay and midway through the whole station lost power. No gas, no refund.

I comforted myself by reading (by crank flashlight) “Five days at Memorial- Life and Death in a Storm-RavagedHospital” by Sheri Fink, about emergency response measures at an inner-city New Orleans hospital in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

While the hospital in question apparently failed to adequately respond to patient needs on several fronts, another hospital, also in floodwater and without power, performed admirably, had few patient deaths, and high staff morale.

They put it down to frequent meetings  amongst staff and leadership, a well-established and, most-importantly, a well-practised emergency response plan.

It’s definitely food for thought that when anything and everything is possible, even in “world-class cities” like Toronto, contingency planning goes a long way.

In the logistics industry this must become second nature. Weather delays across North America this holiday have already affected delivery schedules for major logistics players, many of whom were simply unable to meet some of their advertised delivery commitments.

Some more valuable lessons?

It helps to bite your tongue when your friends who still have power wax poetic about the “pretty trees” on social media (which you can still access once you recharge things in your car!)

Keep the tongue bitten when your relatives and friends overseas lord it over you that they buried their hydro cables decades ago (just above the plague-ridden corpses from centuries ago) to avoid such messes.

We like to keep rotting trees standing in Toronto but quite apart from that, overall I do applaud the city’s response to the outage.

That could also be because our power was restored in 30 hours, just in time to save Christmas dinner, and to avoid having to eat the Twinkie experiment.

So from now on I’ll keep cash in the house and won’t use it for the dollar store. Keep that gas tank full instead of waiting for the point five cent drop.

And above all, thank my lucky stars it was, after all, a minor irritation and major wake-up call.


Julia Kuzeljevich

Julia Kuzeljevich

Julia Kuzeljevich is Editor of Canadian Shipper. She has been writing about transportation and logistics issues since 1999.
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