Road closure outside the Campbell River Hospital due to fallen trees. Photo by Binny Paul/ Campbell River Mirror

Road closure outside the Campbell River Hospital due to fallen trees. Photo by Binny Paul/ Campbell River Mirror

First responders step up for Campbell River, Quadra and Cortes Islands’ first big storm of the year

Power being restored to islands Wednesday

Campbell River first responders had a busy day on Jan. 5.

The strong winds that hit the city and surrounding area on Tuesday afternoon wreaked havoc on power lines for most of the afternoon, keeping crews on their toes late into the evening.

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty said that the forecast gave them a chance to bring on additional staff to run the dispatch centre, and that crews were on calls almost all day.

“We knew the storm was coming from the weather forecast, so our dispatch centre staffed up with some additional staff to handle the overall load that we had,” he said. “We handle dispatch service for 61 departments. Throughout the better part of the storm period, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., we handled 122 911 calls. In the city of Campbell River, our crews responded to 17 incidents.”

Most of those incidents were for lines down or other hydro-related issues. There was one motor vehicle incident on Highway 28, and a few alarm calls as well.

Doherty said that there was not any damage to buildings that the fire department was aware of, or any other damage to infrastructure besides powerlines. BC Hydro crews were hard at work through the night and into Wednesday as well.

On Quadra and Cortes Islands, where the storm hit hardest, the response was largely led by the Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness programs, which are grassroots organizations helping families and individuals be better prepared for emergencies. The programs run community exercises and drills, maintain disaster kits around the island, operate a network of “phone trees” to ensure all are accounted for in a disaster, and use ham radios to communicate during the response.

“We sort of knew this was coming. Since we’ve got the ferry here, that’s one of the first things that comes to mind during a windstorm. Will the ferries run? and if I go over to Campbell River will I be able to make it back. Then the second one is what’s the wind going to do to the power. There’s a relationship with the ferry in terms of when the trucks can get over here,” said Jeff Ballingall, Quadra’s emergency program coordinator.

“We learned early on that BC Hydro had put up on their site that they would not be getting to Quadra or Cortes yesterday because of the ferry disruption. That was information that we wanted to get out to people so they don’t sit around guessing if they’re going to get over here and turn power on.”

While the lights stayed off on the islands until well into Wednesday, these program volunteers ensured that everyone was able to hunker down and shelter in place for the duration of the storm and its aftermath.

The storm was also the first real deployment of the Connect Rocket emergency notification system started by the Strathcona Regional District and the emergency program on the islands. The system had been tested before, but Ballingall said it was the first real use of the program, and that it had worked very well.

Hydro crews were able to get to Quadra and Cortes on Wednesday morning, and were working throughout the day to return power to the islands.

“We would love to see other areas in the SRD emulate the success that Quadra has built on their NEPP (Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness program) programs and anyone interested in learning more about how they can setup a NEPP program in their area can contact me,” said Shaun Koopman, Protective Services Coordinator for the SRD.

RELATED: Quadra, Cortes to be without power overnight: BC Hydro

Power out for over 2,000 in Campbell River

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