Opinion: Canada desperately needs a cellphone alert system

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MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 14, 2011-- A man holds a newly purchased iPhone 4s on the launch day of the Apple phone outside the St. Catherine street Apple store in downtown Montreal on Friday, October 14, 2011. (Dario Ayala/THE GAZETTE) Dario Ayala, The Gazette

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. In Quebec, unpredictable weather is a fact of life that can have devastating effects on people and property. Then there are the man-made ones such as gas leaks, chemical spills, terror attacks and child abductions.

You’re either prepared for emergencies or you’re not. Simply put, we are not. At least, not as well as we could be.

Canadians currently receive emergency warnings through every major medium except cellphones. That might seem like a small piece of the puzzle, but cellphone alerts have become increasingly necessary to emergency preparedness in an age when so many people are cutting the cords of traditional media.

Today, 85 per cent of Canadian households have mobile phones while just under a third have cable subscriptions. Even without those figures, all you have to do is spend some time on a bus or in a coffee shop and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not glued to their phone, tablet or laptop.

This points to the necessity of expanding public alerts to include cellphones, particularly with unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters on the rise. Emergency management officials always point to early warning systems (EWS) as the best way to prevent loss of life. It’s not difficult to imagine how an alert on your cellphone in a time of emergency could save you, your family and friends or even total strangers.

It’s worth noting that Canada is not alone on this. At a May 24 meeting in Mexico, the United Nations Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction focused on the need to shift from managing disasters to managing the risks of disaster. That included not only making EWS more effective and efficient but also coordinating government and telecom efforts to ensure alerts are universal.

In April, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced it was giving telecom companies “approximately 12 months” to implement cellphone emergency alerting systems. My initial thoughts were: “It’s about time and I’ll believe it when I see it.” You see, we’ve been down this road before with the CRTC.

In 2004, the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence issued what was to be the first of many recommendations to establish a national public alerting system. In 2007, the committee adduced evidence from the CRTC’s Scott Hutton that a system featuring interruptive television alerts would be in place by 2009. He repeatedly undertook that if an alert system was not in place on a voluntary basis by 2009, the CRTC would take the necessary steps to put one in place.

But that deadline passed and Canadians had to wait another six years before the CRTC compelled broadcasters to create a national alert system. Even then, some broadcasters dragged their feet on meeting the deadline, and Bell Canada and others were still not fully compliant for several months.

Hence my skepticism about the CRTC’s latest pronouncement. Littered with the seeds of delay and obfuscation, it began with a supposedly firm deadline of next April 6, but then goes on to say that a number of kinks would need to be worked out before emergency alerts can begin. Then it ends by stating that “the Commission expects that this new capability will be available in approximately 12 months.”

Talk about a soft deadline.

The thing is, this isn’t exactly new technology. Smartphones have been in widespread use for more than a decade. The U.S. has had a cellphone alert system in place since 2013 as part of a matrix of alerting technology (cellphones, sirens, TV, radio).

I commend the CRTC for finally calling on telecom providers to get on board with cellphone alerts, but I’d sleep a little better if Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly put the full weight of her office behind the initiative too. Canadians lives may well depend on it.

Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.

Kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca

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How does Cote Saint-Luc handle emergency situations?

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In my opinion:

Montrealers were rightly miffed knowing that hundreds of fellow urbanites were stranded overnight on a snowbound Autoroute 13 a few months ago. How could this happen in 2017, we asked? I ask, could such a fiasco, on a very local scale happen in Cote Saint-Luc?

On Autoroute 13 all signs point to a major breakdown in frontline coordination, in communications between agencies, in preparation (see Gazette article link below).

I have dedicated my civic life to public safety, in Cote Saint-Luc (and across Quebec), with a  goal of making our municipality the safest place around. I began early, back in high school and CEGEP, at training in matters of safety, joining St. John Ambulance, the Canadian Ski Patrol, CSL Emergency Measures Organization and the local ambulance system. Eventually I worked my way up to overseeing public safety and emergency preparedness at the local political level.

Since that time, Cote Saint-Luc has taken matters of safety very seriously, investing in training, leadership, volunteers and citizens, in equipment and services. This deliberate and systematic nurturing of a communal culture of safety has proven effective time and again.

I was active and on duty during the major flood in the late 80s, fire evacuation in the early 90s, Ice Storm of the Century in the late 90s, Y2K, more floods, heat waves, snow emergencies, barricaded shooter, downed trees and wires, gas leaks, car crashes, missing persons, bottled water distribution… And time and again Cote Saint-Luc has proven to be a model municipality, able to effectively and quickly organize, coordinate, alleviate, sustain, recuperate…

This is no accident. We have built a corps of dedicated, life-saving volunteers in EMS over the last 50 years. We have trained over 90 volunteers as our volunteer Citizens on Patrol over the last decade. We have built a professional Public Security Department to watch over our city 24/7. We have an emergency dispatch centre and a first-class Emergency Preparedness Plan. We keep it up to date and we test it.  We’ve saved our local police station more than once to ensure close proximity to, and coordination with the authorities in crime prevention and emergency response. We built a leading firefighting and prevention department (that was taken over by Montreal in 2002). We coordinate with all levels of government. We meet regularly. We practice. We keep our citizenry informed, trained, engaged.

As a ringleader in public safety I take great pride in what we’ve accomplished and look forward to continuing to make our city the safest it can be. I’ve worked alongside many fine people along the way and they all share in this great achievement. Thank you to my council-partner-in-safety Ruth Kovac and to Bryan Payne and the late Norm Adler of EMO, to Frank Albert and the late Doug Lion of the CSL Fire Department, to Hal Newman, Rick Liebman, Stephan Kallos and Jordy Reichson of EMS, to the immeasurable dedication of our EMS volunteers including Patti-Beth Lietman, Neil Michaels, Erwin Luden, Brian Goldberg, Michael Glazer, the Sager boys (and so many more wonderful people I wish I could name all here) and vCOP volunteers including Mitchell Herf, Lewis Cohen, Susie Schwartz, Elaine Meunier, Bert Rabinovitch, Phil Mayman, Morris Stelcner, David Goldsmith, Murray Genis (and again the list of marvelous dedicated volunteers, past and present goes on and on and I thank you all immensely). And finally, thanks to our City Council for its support for my vision and all we have accomplished together. (I know I inadvertently missed some important names who’ve contributed to making CSL a safer place. Please add them in comments).

We are well prepared, trained and ready. And we are always striving to learn more, to be better. We’re all in this together.

Next week is EMS Week across Canada. I take this opportunity to salute all of our dedicated volunteers in Cote Saint-Luc along with all the paramedic professionals who serve our community.

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Probe of Highway 13 fiasco blames frontline authorities

SQ officers and safety crews try to clear up Highway 13 near Côte-de-Liesse Rd. March 15, 2017, following massive snow storm that left many motorists stranded overnight.
SQ officers and safety crews try to clear up Highway 13 near Côte-de-Liesse Rd. March 15, 2017, following massive snow storm that left many motorists stranded overnight. PIERRE OBENDRAUF / MONTREAL GAZETTE

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Railway fire and explosions rock Cote Saint-Luc in Tabletop Exercise

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Emergency service leaders, city service directors, elected officials and community partners ‘raced’ to Cote Saint-Luc City Hall’s Emergency Operations Centre Thursday morning for a mock rail disaster. The exercise was coordinated by Public Safety Director Jordy Reichson in conjunction with Montreal Agglomeration’s Public Safety Centre.

The live action exercise included Montreal agglomeration police and fire services, Urgences Santé ambulance services, CP Police, West-Central Montreal Health, Federation CJA’s community security branch along with all services in the city of CSL.

CSL Public Safety Director Jordy Reichson oversees the Emergency Operations Centre

The scenario involved an overnight train derailment that resulted in a fire and explosion, just east of the Westminster underpass, affecting 250 residents requiring immediate evacuation. Water and electricity was cut off. City personnel established an evacuation centre at the aquatic and community centre on Parkhaven at Mackle. Reichson gave orders to all service directors to huddle and coordinate with their first responders and personnel.

As city councillor responsible for emergency preparedness I can attest that it is evident why CSL is renowned for its level of readiness. The ongoing training, testing and preparing are well worth the investment in time and resources.

Police Commander Jean O’Malley confers with Public Safety Director Jordy Reichson. Executive Assistant Tammy McEwan keeps tabs on all decisions.

In this mock scenario I served as official spokesperson for the city in partnership with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, and neighboring municipalities and boroughs. A mock press conference was set up to inform our residents.

Several issues arose for the members of the Emergency Operations Centre to deal with on an urgent basis including diminished air quality, wind direction, sheltering of animals, providing kosher and non-kosher food, evacuation of mobility reduced residents and babies, registering residents willing to take in evacuees, distribution of drinking water and more.

Director Jordy Reichson consults with Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen

Participants dealt with a spreading power outage affecting the whole city. Traffic lights were out. Expectations were two days to restore all to normal.

The three hour scenario demonstrated the participant’s ease in dealing with unraveling urgent situations and in collaborating around the table to ensure the safety of our residents. Discussions, swinging back and forth effortlessly in French and English, flowed smoothly and in a spirit if great cooperation.

Montreal Fire Department Division Chief Martin Ferland and Police Commander Jean O’Malley update the leaders in the Cote Saint-Luc Emergency Operations Centre

Cote Saint-Luc residents can take pride in knowing that their emergency, city and community services along with mayor and councillors hold these exercises from time to time and place such a high priority in testing their skills and readiness. Through these exercises improvements and adjustments can be made, professional skills developed and relationships enhanced to be well prepared for the real deal.

On behalf of our residents, thank you to our dedicated leaders around the tabletop mock disaster. Your commitment to emergency services and to our residents and community is exemplary and greatly appreciated. Thank you to Sid-Ali Talbi of Centre de sécurité civile de Montréal and CSL Public Safety Chief Philippe Chateauvert and kudos to Jordy Reichson for his leadership in orchestrating a successful demonstration and return to normalcy for our city.

Councillor Ruth Kovac and I have been involved in emergency preparedness in Cote Saint-Luc for 36 years. I was involved in EMO in the 1987 floods and we both participated in leading city services in the 1998 Ice Storm and in preparation for Y2K. We’ve taken part in many exercises over the years and we were very impressed in how these leaders came together to deal with a sudden, life-threatening crisis in a calm and professional manner.

We’re in good hands in Cote Saint-Luc!

For more information on emergency preparedness in Cote Saint-Luc and to learn what you can do to better prepare your own family please visit the CSL Emergency Preparedness page here or GetPrepared.ca.

Preparing for disaster behind the scenes

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Emergency_preparedness_committee_March2015

Just because we live in one of the most peaceful communities in the Montreal area doesn’t mean we’re not thinking about what can go horribly wrong at any moment. And for this  reason some very specialized people gathered at Cote Saint-Luc city hall earlier this week to discuss disasters, large and small, natural and man-made.

The emergency preparedness plan of the City includes three vital groups of participants:

  • The City of Côte Saint-Luc, including the Mayor and Council, and employees;
  • Regional services, such as the Montreal Police, Montreal Fire Department, Urgences-santé and provincial and federal government;
  • YOU, the resident! Each person has a vital role to play in preparing for and mitigating the risks of disasters

The city has identified the following to be the most likely risks affecting our territory:

  1. Major fire
  2. Train accident or derailment
  3. Weather-related incident, such as an extreme snow- ice- or wind-storm, heat or cold spell, etc.
  4. Public health incident (pandemic or epidemic)
  5. Power failure during a period of extreme temperature (heat or cold)
  6. Terrorist activity
  7. Shortage, absence or contamination of the water supply
  8. Computer network or communications network outage
  9. Hazardous materials incident
  10. Airplane crash

CSL Emergency Preparedness Committee met this week to review and analyze any threat to the city along with risk mitigation

 

As the chairman of the Emergency Preparedness Committee I ensure that we bring experts around the table each year to review and update our emergency plan and that we test the plan with our staff and volunteers and keep our residents informed and aware.

Last year CSL City Council made Emergency Preparedness a major priority for 2014. We held a public information meeting about emergency preparedness. We dedicated an entire issue of the CSL Courier to this important topic and we launched the CSL Alert Mass Notification System. CSL Alert allows you to opt-in to receive notifications via phone call, text message, e-mail and more based on locations you care about. You can choose to receive notifications about events that may affect your home, workplace, family’s schools and more. Visit http://www.cotesaintluc.org/Alert to learn more.

CSL, residents must work together in emergency situations: mayor

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Suburban | September 24, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | September 24, 2014 | Click to enlarge

City to unveil highlights of disaster plan

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The City of Côte Saint-Luc will unveil a summary of its disaster plan to the public on Monday, September 15 at 8pm at City Hall, 5801 Cavendish Blvd.
“We have updated our plan this year and our city council, staff, and volunteers are trained on what to do in case of a disaster or major emergency,” Mayor Anthony Housefather said. “We want to give residents an overview of the plan and explain how it would be used in an emergency.”
Councillor Glenn J. Nashen, the council member responsible for emergency preparedness will also discuss how residents can prepare for the first 72 hours of an emergency.
“Even with the best disaster plan and the best execution of that plan, it may take emergency workers some time to get to you because they have to prioritize who needs the most help,” Councillor Nashen said. “In the event of a major emergency, residents need to be prepared, too, with enough bottled water, canned foods, medication, and anything else you require.”
For more information on how to prepare for an emergency, visit CoteSaintLuc.org/EmergencyPreparedness.

Spring letter to my constituents in CSL District 6

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Sunny, warm days are finally here after a wicked winter and a stressful provincial election. Let the good times roll but please drive carefully and look out for kids playing and cycling.

Following last autumn’s municipal elections Mayor Housefather has assigned new portfolio responsibilities to council. While I am still overseeing Emergency Preparedness (EP) and our volunteer Citizens on Patrol (vCOP) program I have also taken on new responsibilities in Public Affairs, Communications and Information Technology. Nevertheless, I am still passionate about issues of public safety, especially our incredible EMS

vCOP continues to grow as our volunteer corps approaches 80 members, allowing for more patrols day and night, and more folks ready to help when disaster strikes. Our crews are also trained by the Fire Department to inspect your smoke detectors, which are required by law. Please invite them in when they ring your doorbell for a free inspection. And consider joining us by visiting the vCOP website at CoteSaintLuc.org/vCOP.

This year City Council is focusing efforts on EP and disaster planning. Already a leader in these issues, we are upgrading plans, training staff and volunteers, and involving and educating you. You will soon be able to sign up for emergency alerts by phone and email. Watch the local papers and my blog for important updates over the coming months.

The Parkhaven Courtyard Townhouse project is in full swing.  The old Griffith McConnell infirmary is demolished and there is much activity in preparation for the construction of 50 townhouses. The long term prospects for this site are very positive.

Welcome to several new residents who have moved in to their beautiful new homes on Kellert (between Kildare and Mackle), now part of District 6.

Please be sure to subscribe to my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter. My postings are an unparalleled means of keeping you informed on local issues, breaking news, opinion, public safety information and news clippings from Cote Saint-Luc.

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