How fragile we are. Residents of Hawkesbury, Vankleek Hill and L’Orignal have likely been thinking a lot about the importance of water this week, following a pipe break at the Hawkesbury water plant, which caused flooding, and damage to diesel pumps. That damage knocked out water pressure, threatened the water safety and quantity available to all communities, which, at the time of this writing, were still being encouraged to conserve water.
Nine schools were closed, Champlain Day Care was closed on Monday, a few businesses chose to close, the local Vankleek Hill Foodland brought in extra water and the Town of Hawkesbury, although not distributing bottled water as of Monday at about noon, said it was ready to do so if necessary.
Emergency situations like this one highlight so many vulnerabilities in our communities. Even with land lines, cell phones, websites and social media posts, municipal staff and firefighters were still going door-to-door with boil-water advisory information. As so many of you know, there are so many ways to communicate with each other — but it still takes a significant effort to reach everyone when there is an emergency.
The strength of our communities resides in our caring for each other. It resides in the municipal and counties staff — some of whom worked through the night because of this. On Monday in L’Orignal and in Vankleek Hill, volunteer firefighters stopped their lives to deliver boil-water notices door-to-door.
As we come up to the 20th anniversary of the Ice Storm of 98. . . and think back to the flooding in the spring earlier this year, it is a reminder that when emergencies arise, we should be grateful for the systems we have in place to deal with threatening situations.
As with every emergency, much-needed improvements are considered, often late at night. Why do we not have a system in place which could at least initiate an automated, bilingual phone message with information that is urgent. This is possible. But a back-up way to communicate would be necessary. One shudders to think of what would happen if internet stopped working. Forget cell phone communication; forget posts on Facebook. What then? Radio signals seem unstoppable and the Prescott-Russell Amateur Radio Club could be called upon to operate from emergency headquarters at each municipality, in the case of a counties-wide crisis. To our knowledge, this is not organized.
And one must remember that despite every avenue of communication, some people will be missed. Phones are not always answered; voicemails fail. People work night shifts and may sleep through the knock on the door.
Planning and executing a plan for every eventuality takes knowledge of existing systems, perseverance, stamina and cooperation.
Perhaps the message here for all of us is that we should not take for granted the complex systems upon which we rely.
Water, sewage, fire services, garbage collection, emergency personnel, internet, electricity, gas and fuel are all provided to us in most cases, at great cost and with significant liability attached to each of them.
We might do well to put more focus on reducing and conservation all of the time when it comes to water, garbage collection and our use of resources which are, after all, paid for from the public purse — which is funded by all of us.
By Louise Sproule
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