Passing the buck surely won’t solve any similar crisis

All parties well-advised to sit down, talk, develop a plan to address shelter needs

Published on July 9, 2014

Angela Veness took this picture of collapsed tents at Raceway Park in Oyster Bed Bridge on Sunday after incurring the wrath of post tropical storm Arthur over the weekend. It was one of the official sites people could camp out in tents for the Cavendish Beach Music Festival.

©Photo Special to The Guardian by Angela Veness

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the weather calamity last Saturday which sent thousands of tenters scurrying for shelter but with nowhere to go. A tourism operator who says the province failed in its obligation to tenters, raised interesting questions this week. He said they should have been offered shelter or some kind of assistance when 100 km/h and higher gusts flattened tents of fans here for the Cavendish Beach Music Festival. We invited them here and when Mother Nature unleashed her fury, we left them to battle the storm and the elements on their own.

What happened on the weekend might be a once- in-a-lifetime occurrence for early July on P.E.I. When hurricane Juan struck in 2003, it was late September, deep into the hurricane season. Whoever heard of 100 km/h and higher winds slamming into the Maritimes on July 5?

In winter, if a paralyzing blizzard or ice storm should strike, with prolonged power outages, we expect to see emergency shelters open to provide warmth, cots, a hot meal and a welcome respite from the freezing weather.

Officials with the Office of Public Safety, P.E.I. Federation of Municipalities, Canadian Red Cross and concert organizers should have a plan in place to offer emergency help when tents are ripped apart by the wind. And it got very cool Saturday evening when fans had no option but to head to Charlottetown to flood into the malls to get warm and escape the weather.

The storm should not have been a surprise to anyone. The weather forecast predicted it more than five days before it struck. Everyone knew that thousands of susceptible people were going to be in the Cavendish area from Thursday to Monday. And when the storm hit, almost all available rooms in motels and hotels had been previously booked.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but area shelters such as fire halls, arenas or school gyms should have been ready. Volunteers needed to be called and generators made available. As campers registered, operators should have passed out flyers of where to go if things got bad. We were lucky the heavy rains missed us or things could have been a lot worse.

Many tenters will take home memories of how they survived post-tropical storm Arthur. But those memories would be a lot better had they an option to find refuge in a shelter. People were vulnerable. It just takes one falling tree to cause a tragedy.

Few people thought it would get that bad, especially after Friday’s spectacular start to the music festival. Everyone was caught unprepared. This can’t be happening on July 5 after a week of hot, humid conditions?

The process for emergency management and response involves four levels of responsibility in an emergency. In order, they are individual, municipal, provincial and federal. Everyone has a role to play. It all sounds good but unless there is a plan and people are ready to act and make a decision, history will repeat itself.

Someone has to be responsible. It’s fine for some officials to say that it wasn’t bad enough to open shelters. Those people were not the ones in flattened tents. As the tourism operator said, how bad do things have to get before shelters are at least offered to tenters. “If this wasn’t bad enough, then what is?’’

We dodged a dangerous bullet last Saturday.

Today, everyone seems intent on passing the buck. Instead, let’s learn a valuable lesson, sit down together, talk and plan on how to handle any such future crisis.