Monday, October 11, 2010

What we have here is a failure to communicate!


For many Rupertites, the relative calm after the storm of Sunday morning brought a sense of deja vu all over again.

With the visual of long line ups at the Hays Cove Petro Can  and Overwaitea yesterday, you couldn't help but think back to the last time Prince Rupert dealt with the wrath of Mother Nature with such a reaction.

When the Skeena flooded in 2007 and shut down the highway, local citizens took to stocking up on both fuel and food in anticipation of the unknown.

The lack of solid information perhaps the cause of their anxiety and dedication to hoarding, a situation that at the time brought then Mayor Herb Pond to the city's papers and airwaves to call for calm and to advise that all was under control.

His arrival to the discussion however did not come until after the rumours of a town famous for them had gotten a little out of control.

Back in 2004 the city also faced tribulations when a severe November rain storm blew in, the result of which was a severed gas pipeline leaving residents without service, an incident chronicled in the PNG archives.  PNG also had problems with the gas line in 2003  leaving the city without gas service for almost a week,  a weather related event that even made it into Environment Canada's top ten lists for 2003.

Again as is often the case, the vacuum of official information in those incidents as with many others was filled by speculation much of which tends to wander off the path of reason it seems.

Then as today there was a simple solution to the lack of information delivery the City's own website and yet some seven years later there is still not much use of it and for the most part the rumours traded in the coffee shops take on larger than life proportions.

When Saturday's windstorm finally blew itself to the east and left Rupertites to assess the damage, the first conduit of information once the power came back on was the city's unofficial information portal, htmf.

Regular users and newcomers alike clicked onto the site to find out how their neighbours had fared, where the most damage was and what was being done to return things to a bit of normalcy after the big winds of the night before.

More than a few provided pictures, lots of them as a matter of fact, that better told the story than any news accounts could that day, pictures of roofs gone from their trusses or blown over onto the street, a trailer park in Port Edward that looked as though a near hurricane if not a full fledged one had passed through (which most certainly it did it seems).

It was the kind of in the moment material that offers up the clear evidence of what had happened, and highlighted just how much local residents were anxious for more information about what had happened.

The local portal was the first to advise residents of the possibility of gas service interruptions due to a problem with the pipeline between Prince Rupert and Terrace, likewise it was where many residents first found out about problems with the CityWest analog cable service, not on any official website but from the unofficial bulletin board for the city's residents.

While the efforts of the htmf moderators are laudable in keeping that service up and running, the concept of helpful and required information delivery should really be a concern of the City and the assorted agencies that provide services in the city.

Both the City and CityWest for instance provide websites to offer information to their residents and subscribers, yet neither had any information on the fall out of Sunday's storm posted by Monday afternoon.

A simple update on either site would have gone a long way towards keeping residents informed and perhaps reassuring them that things were being taken care of.

In the case of the City's website, posting current updates on the situation would be a welcome addition to the information flow to the city's residents.  Listing the street closures due to fallen trees, providing advice on any damage assessments as well as  providing the latest status of the gas situation could have been a helpful thing to know in the hours after the storm.

Much has been made of late of the state of the city's media of late, from the closure of a daily newspaper to the growing distance of the local radio stations from events in the city, the process of information delivery has been reduced over the last number of years, which is a void that htmf seems to have filled for residents.

While some critics of the on line portal suggest that there is much room for misinformation with it (and at times that could be true) in this case, it seems that the residents took it upon themselves to provide updates as to what was happening in their community, as they say pictures tell more than words, and with the number of photos provided by Sunday evening, those Rupertites who had access to the Internet had a pretty good idea what had happened around town and what may be the situation for the week to come.

As useful and informative as the contributors to htmf have been this weekend, there's nothing like official information to reassure residents of what is going on.

The city might want to take a page from those residents and make use of its own portal to the world to offer up that same kind of review of events and provide more information on what they may need to know for the week ahead.

The Mayor once mentioned upon the closing of the Daily News that he wondered how residents would receive important information without that daily link, the answer perhaps is as close as to one of the computers at city hall.

If nothing else, we  imagine that the use of the city's web site could reduce the number of phone calls coming in over the next few days, leaving  more time to tackle any issues that have popped up in the wake of Sunday's windstorm.

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