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Sep 30

Emergency Preparedness In Action

Posted by: Vicki Thomas in DRJ Blogs

Vicki Thomas

Nearly two weeks ago at 8:48 a.m. an OC Transpo bus collided with a Via Rail Train in the city of Ottawa, Ontario. Six people were killed and over thirty people were injured. These are the basic facts of this terrible collision. It will take months for Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigators to understand (as best they can) what might have caused the collision.

I live in Ottawa. This accident occurred a mere 1 mile from my house. I used to take a bus to work that crossed that very same level train crossing. It is so very hard to understand what happened and how this could have occurred. As can be expected, there was lots of speculation on what could have caused the crash - but the reality is we won't know anything for a very long time. 

It seemed that myself and so many others learned of this crash before the local media... Yes, this is the age of Social Media after all. I received a Skype chat message just minutes after the crash that included a rather graphic photo of the bus. I quickly scoured Twitter trying to find out more - and then I went to the CBC.ca website (our national broadcaster) - but it took time for this website to be updated with any details about the collision. But the Twitter accounts for local Ottawa CBC reporters were beginning to become active and report news of the crash. 

Soon enough people were Googling, Tweeting, and posting to Facebook about the crash. Very quickly there were rather graphic photos and first-hand account videos posted on Twitter. The news that there was a crash got out very quickly - all because of Social Media.

What took longer to learn and find out were the actual facts and details of the crash. How many people were injured? Which bus was it? What about the train? What about the road on which this occurred - is it open or closed? What about the rest of the OC Transpo traffic that travels this very same route - it was rush hour? Yes, so many questions that took a long time to get answered.

While the local media did an excellent job of reporting and covering the basic facts of the collision - it was their Tweets that seemed to reach the widest audience. Through-out the day my Twitter feed was full of Tweets and Retweets of news from the crash site.

It should be noted that city of Ottawa emergency staff responded instantly and quickly had the accident scene cordoned off and no less than two press conferences were held within two hours of the crash to let the public know what was happening. Two of the major hospitals in the city were mobilized with additional staff, the air ambulance ORNGE service was on-call and ready to help out, folks wishing to donate blood were given the details they needed - city officials, hospital administrators, and emergency responders - all responded and acted as quickly and efficiently as could be expected. 

It is clear that people were ready and prepared for a disaster - there are no reports of confusion at the scene, of delays, of miscommunication - all levels of leadership and responsibility responded efficiently and openly. 

While this will not be the last time such a similar accident occurs in this city or in any other, what we can take from this is that emergency preparedness does make a difference when a disaster happens. One can only hope that all other cities are as prepared as the City of Ottawa was - all too often we are writing about how companies, city officials, and other organizations weren't prepared for a similar disaster and how an emergency preparedness plan that was up-to-date and followed could have made all the difference. While an emergency preparedness plan can't change what happened it can definitely change the way people respond, react and communicate.