Lessons learned – Municipalities prepare mandated disaster plans

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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – With the unprecedented high waters receding, many municipalities are starting to coordinate clean-up efforts and prepare for the future.

Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – With the unprecedented high waters receding, many municipalities are starting to coordinate clean-up efforts and prepare for the future.
According to Julien Gagnon, MRC Pontiac Fire and Public Safety Coordinator, early this year the government adopted “le règlement sur les procédures d’Alerte et de mobilisation et les moyens de secours minimaux pour protéger la sécurité des personnes et des biens en cas de sinister” (the Regulation on Alert and Mobilization Procedures and Minimum Rescue Means to Protect the Safety of Persons and Property in the Event of a Disaster). Not mandatory in the past, this law now requires that all municipalities have updated emergency response plans in place by November 2019.
The MRC Pontiac and MRC-des-Collines are currently working on creating regional plans, although they’ve taken a break from the preparations to deal with the current flood crisis. Pontiac and each of the MRC Pontiac’s municipalities have plans, but some haven’t been updated in years.
“All municipalities have been working hard on it, and with the current flooding, no one is taking it lightly. I strongly believe our municipalities were much better prepared this time around compared to 2017, and I’m confident we will be even more prepared in [the future],” said Gagnon.
Eric Rochon, Mansfield Director General, said this year’s experience
has been really “eye opening”. “Nobody expected this much water. We were expecting 2017 levels and would have been prepared for them, but how do you prepare for something like this? We did okay, but we’ve definitely developed more tools [and knowledge] to be used in the future,” he said, noting this
will be integrated in their updated emergency plan.
Bristol councillor Phillip Holmes believes both the municipality and
residents were better prepared this year compared to 2017, but they “can always do better.” Holmes said many lessons were learned, especially by working with the military who taught everyone new methods and skills.
The MRC Pontiac’s plan will be a culmination of the individual municipal plans, so these must be nearly complete before information is gathered for the regional version.
According to Pontiac Mayor Joanne Labadie, the MRC-des-Collines is
doing something similar. “All seven municipalities are using the same template so when a person moves from one municipality to another, the document will be much the same, but with local information added,” she explained.  
Pontiac post-mortem unveiled
The Municipality of Pontiac’s long-awaited post-mortem report on the 2017 floods was released in April, around the same time this year’s flooding began. 
In brief, Mayor Joanne Labadie said the report, completed by special
consultant Jean Perras, describes what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and areas for improvement.
The report noted that although the municipality and its partners did a “remarkable” job in 2017 given the number of residents affected and the duration of the flood (about six weeks), there are challenges to address: emergency response and emergency communication plans should be periodically updated; the need to instate annual or semi-annual exercises to test emergency plans; and the development of a regional strategy for the coordination of emergency response plans with municipalities of the MRC-des-Collines and others in close proximity, notably the City of Gatineau. The entire 114 page report is available on the municipality’s website.
Labadie said she is advocating for increased regional cooperation and better partnerships. “The biggest lesson is that rural municipalities can’t do it alone,” she said, noting Pontiac was better prepared for the 2019 flood and  already started implementing some of Perras’ recommendations; notably, partners like the Sureté du Quebec and Red Cross were “on the ground” earlier and there were regional plans in place for borrowing equipment and giving municipal employees relief to prevent burnout.
“There’s always room for improvements,” she added, noting another post-mortem report will be done for the 2019 flood.  One of the main things to address in the new emergency response plan will be flooding in private beach communities,
which Labadie says makes up the majority of Pontiac’s 47 kilometers of river
property.
According to Labadie, despite numerous calls and meetings with government officials, the municipality wasn’t permitted to do preventative work on private roads. However, work done by beach associations is admissible for financial relief
programs. “At a minimum, there needs to be more awareness about this,” she concluded.