December 21 and 22 marked the anniversary of the 2013 ice storm, an extreme winter storm that produced freezing rain, ice pellets and severe wind. The storm, which at one point affected almost one million Torontonians, resulted in widespread power outages, damaged properties, a devastated tree canopy and disrupted municipal services.
Since the storm, the City of Toronto has made significant enhancements to its emergency response plans and has been working with its agencies and external partners to ensure that Toronto is prepared for severe weather emergencies in the future.
The following is an update on the progress the City has made based on the recommendations from the independent review and the Council reports on the 2013 ice storm.
City of Toronto’s Emergency Plan
The City’s Emergency Plan has been updated and reflects the improvements City divisions have made to their processes and procedures based on the experience gained from the severe weather events in 2013, including the December’s ice storm and the July 2013 rain storm.The City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has also made a number of updates to various Emergency Support Function Plans addressing how key functional areas, such as solid waste management, transportation services, paramedic services and communications operate during an emergency.
More information about the City’s Emergency Plan is available at http://bit.ly/1GPPKwQ.
Emergency reception centres
The OEM in co-ordination with Parks, Forestry and Recreation has identified four City-owned recreation facilities, one in each district, to be used as pre-planned emergency reception centres.
In the event of an emergency, the four emergency reception centres will provide evacuees with emergency food and clothing, temporary emergency shelter/lodgings, urgent personal supplies, health care support, social services supports, assistance with service animals and pets, and information and referrals if needed. The emergency reception centres will also offer integrated assistance for vulnerable populations. Translation services will be provided if required.
The four identified facilities will be capable of providing full lodging services. The equipment needed for the emergency reception centres will be stored onsite to ensure that in the event of an emergency, staff will have the ability to quickly and efficiently set up the emergency reception centres when needed. These reception centres will have access to backup power during an emergency.
Locations of the four pre-identified emergency reception centres:
- East – Agincourt Recreation Centre
- South – Wellesley Recreation Centre
- North – Edithvale Recreation Centre
- West – Thistletown Recreation Centre
The City has developed manuals, and policies and procedures to assist staff who are trained to open of emergency reception centres in the event of an emergency.
In larger scale emergencies, the City will have the capacity to open additional reception centres.
In addition to the emergency reception centres, during an emergency and depending on the time of year, the City will have the ability to open warming centres or cooling centres. Specific facilities would be identified at the time of the emergency, based on the location(s) of affected residents. Facilities that would be identified as possible warming or cooling centres include City-owned community centres, police stations, libraries and schools. The warming or cooling centres would be drop-in only and would be staffed by the City and the Canadian Red Cross.
Emergency Social Services Working Group
The Emergency Social Services Working Group has been established, with approved terms of reference to improve and increase vulnerable residents access to City services during an emergency.
The Emergency Social Services Working Group includes staff representatives from 13 City divisions and two City agencies:
· Children’s Services
· Employment and Social Services
· Human Resources
· Long-Term Care Homes and Services
· Municipal Licensing & Standards
· Office of Emergency Management
· Parks, Forestry and Recreation
· Toronto Public Health
· Shelter, Support and Housing Administration
· Social Development, Finance & Administration
· Toronto Paramedic Services
· Toronto Office of Partnerships
· 311 Toronto
· Toronto Public Library
· Toronto Community Housing
The working group is currently focusing on the July 2014 Council direction with respect to improving working relationships with the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network and other community based agencies to better assist the city’s vulnerable populations. In 2015, the working group will look to further these partnerships and a broader survey is planned for next year to better understand the responsibilities of these community agencies and their services during an emergency.
City of Toronto and Canadian Red Cross Memorandum of Understanding
In May 2014, the City signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Canadian Red Cross. The Red Cross has agreed to assist the City with providing emergency social services to residents who may become displaced during an emergency.
In March, the City of Toronto and Toronto Hydro conducted an independent review to assess Toronto Hydro’s response to the 2013 ice storm. The report from the independent review is available at http://bitly.com/1pLKtCC
The City and Toronto Hydro are working together to assess and review a number of recommendations from the July 2014 Council decision, including examining current line clearing programs to effectively manage the potential impact of trees in close proximity to hydro lines, reviewing the possibility of construction of underground powerlines in new development areas, and identifying potential conversion of overhead lines to underground lines where possible.
Toronto Hydro has also created a new power outage section on Toronto Hydro’s website along with a mobile application. The web has an enhanced section on outage information; report an outage online forms and emergency preparedness. The site also includes an emergency preparedness guide translated in to Chinese, Spanish, Somali, Tamil and Urdu.
Toronto Hydro will report back to City Council in June 2015 on its implementation plans based on the independent review panel’s recommendations.
Parks, Forestry and Recreation
Urban Forestry is responsible for the maintenance of approximately 4.1 million trees located on streets, in parklands and in ravines and other natural areas. The significant accumulation of ice that occurred on trees during the 2013 winter storm that occurred in the evening of December 21 and the next day resulted in unprecedented damage to trees.
Urban Forestry’s response to the ice storm unfolded in three phases:
– initial response in co-operation with Toronto Hydro to remove trees and tree limbs that were affecting power lines, blocking roads, or posed a safety concern;
– Hazard Abatement, which included tree inspections and prioritized work to make trees safe and eliminate hazards, and
– Hidden Hazard Cleanup which was completed in November and included a detailed assessment of the structural integrity of street trees and select trees in parklands to identity hidden tree hazards. Structurally compromised trees were addressed and expedited tree maintenance was conducted. Non-emergency tree work is scheduled to be completed through Urban Forestry’s area maintenance program.
Data has been collected and is currently being analyzed to confirm the impact of the storm and for the purpose of planning long term recovery of the urban forest.
Urban Forestry is currently working with Toronto Hydro to review line clearing programs and identify opportunities to enhance co-ordination of activities to manage the potential impact of trees in close proximity to power lines. Urban Forestry is also working to improve co-ordination and communication during emergency situations.
Solid Waste Management Services
The city-wide cleanup operation after the ice storm was led by Solid Waste Management Services. It involved co-ordinating a multi-divisional team and a variety of external contracted services, that worked together to quickly restore mobility and safety to city streets and parks.
Since the ice storm, Solid Waste Management Services and the OEM have developed an Emergency Support Function to clearly outline the management of debris caused by an emergency. Under this Emergency Support Function, Solid Waste Management Services will work with other City divisions to expedite debris cleanup, and to restore and resume services quickly after an emergency.
Transportation Services has established criteria to determine Toronto’s highest priority intersections during an emergency. The division has identified 85 of the city’s highest priority traffic control signal locations and has been working in coordination with Toronto Police Services on the development of emergency response protocols to ensure that police officers are available to direct and control the city’s highest priority traffic intersections during an emergency.
Transportation Services has started to install reflectors on traffic signals to ensure better visibility during a power outage.
Staff are in the final stages of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding between 311 Toronto and Toronto Hydro that will integrate a two-way communication system between 311 Toronto and Toronto Hydro’s call centre.
311 Toronto has also developed an online outage reporting strategy to enable 311 Toronto to log outage reports for customers.
A number of reports on the City and its agencies emergency response by the City and its agenices to the December ice storm have been considered by City Council in 2014, including: