Pender Island Emergency Program
Damaging Pre-Christmas Windstorm
The devastating windstorm of December 20 was the most notable disaster event in more than a decade on our islands, and the most damaging in BC Hydro’s history - with 350,000 or 80 per cent of all customers on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands affected, plus many more in the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley.
The sixth in a serious of storms, this one arrived initially from the southeast, then shifted to the southwest with sustained winds of 70 to 90 km/h and gusts of more than 100 km/h measured on Saturna Island (according to Environment Canada). All the Southern Gulf Islands were seriously impacted with many hundreds of trees toppled, main roads impassable, power and phone lines down, and communication severely compromised. Some of our SGI residents did not have power or phones restored until early in the new year. Thankfully, no deaths or injuries were reported. Our Pender Island Emergency Program volunteers responded as best they could under difficult circumstances - many were trapped behind blocked roads and unable to report to the Emergency Operations Centre. I applaud their efforts in helping to provide situational awareness of the damage sustained (working with Pender Island Fire Rescue and the RCMP), as well as sourcing overnight lodging to stranded travelers, and helping to staff a Warming Centre at the Community Hall in the days that followed. I would also like to recognize the tremendous efforts by the island residents to support each other once the storm had passed and over the next number of days as power and phone lines were repaired.
In the wake of the storm, innumerable power lines were down across main roads, driveways, and other arteries creating very hazardous conditions. When the power system has been damaged and electricity is uncontrolled, as was the case in this storm, BC Hydro calls for everyone to maintain a distance of 10 metres from damaged lines and equipment to account for touch potential (the line may be subject to movement in the event that it is energized or becomes re-energized) and step potential (a ground gradient may be established around downed lines and equipment). These are the challenges that first responders and members of the public faced. The only way to be certain that a line is de-energized and will not become energized is when that line has been isolated by a BC Hydro power line technician.
This event also underlined how important it is to be prepared, in advance, for serious weather events - be they high winds, heavy rain, snow/ice storms, or other extreme occurrences - which are expected to increase in our region over the next 50 years due to changing climate. When preparing for extreme weather, make sure you have an emergency plan, adequate supplies, and know when to ‘shelter in place’. ‘Shelter in place’ means finding a safe location indoors and staying there until it is safe to leave. Ensure that you have enough food, drinking water, wood (for wood stoves) and fuel (if you have a generator) to be able to look after yourself for up to two weeks. If a severe storm is forecast, secure everything that might be blown around or torn loose - indoors and outdoors. Flying objects such as garbage cans and lawn furniture can cause injuries and damage property. During the event, if you are indoors, stay away from windows, doors, and fireplaces. You may want to go to the sheltered area that you and your family chose in your emergency plan (but only if it is safe to do so). If you are in a car, stop the car away from trees or power lines that could fall on you. Stay there.
The Pender Island Emergency Program will be hosting an Emergency Preparedness Workshop in the coming weeks. It will include helpful information on preparedness, mitigation, and response, as well as power line and generator safety. Until then, please go to the CRD website crd.bc.ca/prepare-yourself and the BC Hydro website bchydro.com/safety-outages for more information.
If you are interested in volunteering for the Pender Island Emergency Program, contact Pat Haugh at email@example.com or call 629-9991.
by Brigitte Prochaska - Southern Gulf Islands Emergency Program Coordinator