The Town of Gibsons’ recent Boil Water Advisory – the first ever for the municipality – came with a steep learning curve. The Town’s staff knew how to deal with contaminants in its drinking water delivery system, which it tests weekly. But apparently the protocols for informing residents of the developing situation, developed by Vancouver Coastal Health and followed by local governments in the region, were not far-reaching or fast enough.
Staff alerted media of breaking news before sending out a bulletin from Mayor Wayne Rowe and emailed notification to residents who subscribed to its newsletter list; the Town and all media outlets then posted the information to their websites and Facebook pages, tweeted it to the Twitterverse, and shared it generously throughout social media. Those who subscribe to the Town’s alerts or set up their smart phones to of emails, Facebook postings and Tweets received the information virtually instantaneously.
Predictably, those who rely on other means to get their news, received the information later and less reliably – usually by word of mouth from a friend or neighbour. In some cases, days passed before residents received the information of the hazard and the advisory.
Accordingly, the Town is now reviewing its protocols for situations like this, and the procedures will be shared with the SCRD, District of Sechelt and shíshálh Nation for their information. It has been a learning experience.
Among those who should be learning are the residents themselves. How do you get your news?
One resident posted on Facebook that she pretty much expected Town staff to go door to door in the community – to all 1,200 affected residences – and notify each householder. This is neither economic nor realistic when that staff should be out searching for the source of contamination or working on cleaning the distribution system.
In the end, no matter what methods are chosen to get the word out of a contaminated water supply – and yes, that is news that should be delivered virtually as it happens – it will not be 100 per cent effective. And no matter what methods are chosen, this whole episode shows that residents must take responsibility for ensuring they can be reached with information when an emergency situation occurs.
That means: listen to local radio and news broadcasts; sign up for municipal newsletters and e-broadcasts; “like” Facebook pages for media and municipalities so their posts enter your personal news feed; and for those of our readers who shun electronic devices (including cell phones) plan to pick up mail daily, and make a point of checking news sites and bulletin boards for posts that might be of urgent interest.
In the end, all the media in the world can’t inform those who choose not to be informed.
Heather Jeal, Editor