POD storm debrief finds communications the biggest hurdle

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Members of the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program’s POD system met on Saturday to debrief after the windstorm that took place on Dec. 20, 2018.

Over 100 people from all over the island attended the meeting, where they discussed areas of success and areas that need work in Salt Spring’s disaster management system. CRD emergency program coordinator Elizabeth Zook said it was the largest POD meeting that’s ever happened on the island.

“What it shows for me is that the POD program has moved to a different level. This was one of the best community meetings that I’d ever been to,” she said. “What I’m impressed by is that these people are volunteering themselves and building teams of people in the community to help each other in a disaster or a major emergency.”

The meeting, held at Meaden Hall, was a session for neighbourhood POD leaders to share their experiences of the storm and aftermath. SSIEP also distributed a new action plan to help with any concerns that leaders might have had.

One of the major concerns brought up during the meeting was the loss of communications. 

“Communication is the most important aspect in dealing with an emergency, That’s what I see our focus being on right now,” said meeting facilitator Amy MacLeod. “The type of situation we experienced as leaders was very unique because we lacked the various things we could do to communicate with and check on neighbours.

“People just couldn’t even leave their driveways. It wasn’t safe to go outside and they couldn’t go down the roads because wires were down. We had no internet or power,” she added. 

The POD notification system relies on traditional methods of communication, as well as social media. Currently, it is only effective when hydro and wireless networks are still in place. As it was shown during the aftermath of the storm, communication can break down in the absence of these utilities.

After the storm, emails were sent out initially, and updates were posted to the SSIEP Facebook page. Other web-based channels were used, including updates on the Driftwood website for those who could still access the internet using their phones. SSIEP is working on bringing on a two-way radio system to help with more direct communications. POD leaders have been encouraging people to keep a set of two-way radios on hand. Each POD has been issued its own channel and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) testing has been occurring weekly.

“What was hard was just normal telecoms, like being able to talk to each other. That’s still a challenge,” MacLeod explained. “We’re looking at how to deal with that using radio in terms of GMRS and amateur radio and how that works together.”

The POD system currently has 45 amateur radio users who are volunteer POD relayers. Their responsibility is to send the POD situation report through to the Emergency Operations Centre with the POD leaders.

Zook explained that the POD program now was 400 people taking part. Two training sessions scheduled in February are nearly at full capacity.

“Now I feel after eight years that this program stands on its own. It’s starting to pick up momentum,” Zook said. “That’s the program, that was why I was hired: to build community resilience . . . The outcome of this meeting was not just about building disaster resilience, but about building community. I’m very proud to be a Salt Springer.”

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