More than a week removed from the touch-down of Hurricane Dorian, some lessons are starting to emerge.
On September 7, the storm was upgraded to Category 1 strength with winds of 100 miles per hour in some areas, along with tidal surges and driving rain.
By that evening, almost every home in the Strait area was without power. Nova Scotia Power (NSP) estimated there were approximately 400,000 customers in the province who had their service disrupted during the height of the storm.
By the next day, power was restored to Port Hawkesbury and parts of Antigonish and Richmond and Inverness counties, but the lights were still out for many Strait area residents. By mid-week, NSP was still working to restore power to thousands, and for some, the power was restored almost a week after landfall.
Those not on municipal systems, who did not have power, also did not have water flowing to their homes, which made the situation even worse.
Even those on municipal systems, like the users of the Whycocomagh and Mabou plants, had no water at all, and the rest of the municipal users in Inverness County had to conserve their water.
It looks like this is a case when the province’s Emergency Management Office (EMO), in consultation with municipalities, will have to step in to ensure that all residents have access to clean and constant supplies of water immediately. It will also be incumbent on the municipal units to improve this vital service in the meantime.
Not just power and water, Internet and phone services were disrupted last week. In a briefing on September 9, the EMO said Bell was working closely with NSP to restore its operations. The hundreds of thousands without power, were also without cell, and even landline services.
This created a perfect storm – in the midst of the actual storm – of problems for residents of the region who were unable to contact their power company to inform them of their outage and find out what the restoration schedule looked like so they could plan accordingly.
It is understandable, and predictable that many communities would lose power and Internet service during one of the most powerful storms ever experienced in this neck of the woods, but to lose all phone service and access to water just can’t happen during a major weather event of this magnitude.
Nova Scotia’s NDP declared that Internet and cell phone services are “essential” to deliver detailed and timely reports on impacts and what restoration work is underway. They called on the province to require telecommunications companies to provide the public with the same level of information being provided about power outages in the province.
Even though they at least tried to communicate with the public – compared to the deafening silence from the telecoms – NSP deserves some criticism for the manner in which power was restored.
While it was encouraging that Port Hawkesbury, Antigonish and other larger centres in Nova Scotia were able to have their power back 24 hours after Dorian struck, why other communities – like Arichat which houses St. Ann Community Nursing Care Centre, Inverness which has Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital, and Guysborough which has Guysborough Memorial Hospital – had to wait almost 48 hours after the storm and beyond for restoration requires more clarification.
NSP officials were clear that their priorities were in areas that housed such critical care centres, so why did those communities not meet that criteria? Not only do those areas have health care facilities, they are also far removed enough from the larger centres with power that they required more attention than they received.
This does nothing to soften the blow for other communities of similar and smaller size which were still without power almost a week after Dorian put out the lights. Even some of the larger villages in the region – like Havre Boucher, Port Hood, Mabou, Whycocomagh, Louisdale, Petit de Grat, St. Peter’s, and L’Ardoise – had a long wait for power and phone services.
Another point of contention with NSP is that their call centre could not handle the volume of calls received during the hurricane. Even the few with phone service were still unable to receive critical information at a critical time, and the outage map provide useless for the hundreds of thousands with no or sporadic Internet service.
It’s hard to argue with NSP that this was an extreme, worst-case scenario that taxed everyone’s resources, but a more persuasive argument is that the hurricane exposed shortcomings in their storm response system, and more so, the catastrophic failures of telecommunications companies, that had no back-up when the system went down.
Since most climate scientists agree that extreme weather events like Hurricane Dorian will occur with more frequency, it’s now up to these large companies – with the resources and infrastructure to do so – to meet this challenge.
If they do not, it will be then be up to the provincial government – with the legal and moral authority to do so – to force them.