Spring 2017, floods have caused devastation across Canada. The damage is extensive, and water levels in some areas reached unprecedented heights. Communities all across Canada and especially in British Columbia’s Interior, the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, and over 170 communities in Quebec were on high alert, as the rain poured if for days. Thousands of people were evacuated, and the list of road closures was incredibly long. The hashtag #flooding2017 was and is trending, full of distressing images and stories.
A state of emergency was declared in dozens of communities, and it is predicted these scenes are likely to be more frequent and the destruction, more severe. As described in another post about how severe weather impacts business continuity, increases in rainfall around the globe is swelling rivers and lakes, at an alarming rate.
Residents of these communities, including Kelowna, Ottawa, Gatineau, and Montreal, have seen floods before, but this one hit particularly hard. Tony Bolduc, who has a camping site in Rigaud(a town west of Montreal, on the Outaouais River) said, “Every spring we see our lot flooded with three to four feet of water, so we’re used to it.” He added, “This year we got 12 feet, and we won’t be able to camp until at least St-Jean Baptiste day on June 24.” Usually, he is ready to go on the May long weekend. But as Mr. Bolduc explains his situation is nothing compared to others, including residents in town, who lost almost everything.
Emergency services, first responders, citizens, the Canadian military, the Red Cross, and other volunteer organizations were on the ground quickly. They filled tens of thousands of sandbags, dug trenches, and moved belongings for days. And it is expected that their help will be needed for a long time. In these situations, coordinated crisis communication is essential. Emergency mass notification technology simplifies and speeds up the arduous task of mobilizing individuals and communicating countless status updates to volunteers, employees, and residents.
Of course, Emergency Mass Notification (EMN) systems cannot stop the water from rising. But these systems, used by municipalities, organizations and businesses alike, are increasing being employed to alert recipients to growing threats effectively. With the ability to launch a notification campaign by selecting stakeholders directly from an emergency-grade map, recipient lists can be quickly tailored to only those affected by, or who need to know about, an event. When Emergency Managers and EOC (Emergency Operation Centre) personnel can ensure that those unaffected are not needlessly troubled, evacuations are smoother.
The ability to send semi-automated notifications to residents also relieves first responders and other personnel from going door to door to alert individuals of an evacuation, saving a considerable amount of time and resources. An emergency notification system should allow for bi-directional communications, including polling questions. For example, an evacuation notice could allow recipients to indicate that (1) they will evacuate immediately, (2) plan to evacuate within a certain time frame or (3) do not wish to evacuate. The latter respondents can be then instructed to call the authorities or request a call back or a visit from them.
A robust EMN system also facilitates status update communication to the general public, or specific group, to aid in the rescue and recovery efforts. When individuals can retrieve messages when they choose, by phone, a mobile app, or online, there is less pressure on crisis communications teams to send different outgoing messages that can’t be edited once they are sent. Non-life-saving status updates, which can be retrieved when a recipient is ready, are useful to convey for special instructions, water level updates, emergency responder and clean-up progress, or return to home notices.
Social media is arguably a mainstream information pathway. When a crisis communicator can use their EMN system to send mass notification and publish messages Facebook and Twitter simultaneously, they can communicate with more people quickly, freeing them up to manage the crisis and prepare the next message.
Now that the damage is hopefully done, efforts will focus on recovery. If you’d like to help communities and families recover you can do so with the help of the Canadian Red Cross. The Canadian Red Cross accepts donations for flood victims in Ontario and Quebec. Their work, and that of all responders, is truly heroic.