The things you’ll need to save lives in an urban emergency are pretty ordinary. This means chain saws, shovels, pick-up trucks, snow ploughs, busses, regular cars, and lots of people to operate this stuff. Whether it’s snow, tree limbs, or debris from broken up homes on the street, you’ll need people and equipment to get back to normal.
In the emergency plan for Barrie, Ontario, there’s a big heading — HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT CANADA (HRDC). Then there’s a list of help the local office of the federal ministry can provide during an emergency. This includes: “paid workers and volunteers…the capability of employers in the affected area to resume operation, re-deployment of former workers” and so on.
I googled HRDC, Barrie and dialed the 800 number. This number rings in the national capital, Ottawa, almost a day’s drive away. I asked for the local phone number of Barrie’s HRDC office. The Ottawa person didn’t have access to phone numbers — only programs. I was asked what program I wanted. I said I wanted a list of retired day-labourers to help in an emergency. The man on the phone told me that HRDC had been rebranded HRSDC and gave me the only phone number he had, after 26 minutes.
The phone number was for the office of the deputy minister in Hull, Quebec, in the national capital region, across the river from Ottawa. The deputy’s office gave me the number for the Ontario Region, Assistant Deputy Minister’s office in Toronto.
“May I have the number of the Barrie, HRDC office please?” I was told that HRDC was now ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada) and that Service Canada was the operating arm of ESDC. If I had been in the famous Barrie tornado needing help, I could not have cared less about the reorganization and new names of the ministry to which I was referred in Barrie’s emergency plan. In terms of acronyms, the important ones are PDQ (Pretty Darned Quick) and ASAP (As Soon As Possible) — not ESDC. What a SNAFU (Systems Normal All Fouled Up).
I was offered the same 800 number in Ottawa. I was also told there was indeed someone in Barrie, but the person in Toronto couldn’t find a phone number for Barrie. I asked for someone high- er up the chain of command to call me.
When the communications person for the ministry called the next day, I thought I’d get somewhere. Heads of communication are used to tough questions from media, victims, politicians, and others. This person told me I was looking at the wrong emergency plan and that she’d been looking at a pandemic plan last light. She couldn’t find the plan she’d been looking at, but was sure it was on the Barrie website. She referred me to a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and a press release. These are not emergency plans. They are Facts and Questions. I directed her to “Barrie Emergency Plan” on the web and the seven-year-old document with the list of things HRDC could do.
She didn’t want to “comment” on an out of date plan. I said it was the latest, and thus the most up to date. She said if she’d been asked for help, she’d have called the local municipality for people to clear trees and so on. But if I were still an aid to a mayor and called the federal government for help and they called me back and asked my city to provide that help two days later, there’d be both dead people and ‘hell to pay.’ The communications person wondered why that plan was still on the web. I said it was there because nobody took it down, an emergency plan was required by provincial law, people often write down wishful thinking, and nobody checks for seven years.
I said that this list of expertise and help doesn’t actually exist. She agreed and said she’d call Barrie to get to the bottom of it all.
That was now more than a year ago. I didn’t get a call back and didn’t get the number of the HRDC office in Barrie.
Good luck in a real emergency. Find out who owns a chain saw and pick-up truck on your street. Befriend that person. You’re on your own.