Dickson: Lessons learned from Sandy Lake evacuation

Wellington North and the County of Wellington have strengthened emergency procedures following the July evacuation of 204 Sandy Lake residents to Arthur.

County emergency management coordinator Linda Dickson presented council with a report on the evacuation, which lasted about a week when the northern Ontario residents were forced to flee their community because of forest fires and were housed at the Arthur community centre and curling club.

Dickson said the evacuation was handled by the federal government, which contacted Emergency Management Ontario to find out whether there were communities capable of handing an influx of evacuees.

Wellington North responded to the call, providing the community centre for a month if needed. Council declared a state of emergency, setting in motion procedures needed to handle the evacuees.

At the same time, the county also declared a state of emergency because county resources were needed in the evacuation.

Dickson said the exercise taught emergency personnel how to improve procedures, which included security, providing food and housing and making evacuees “feel at home” in their adopted community.

 “(We were) trying to make the community relax and make Arthur their home,” she told council.

The federal government, Dickson explained, funded all aspects of the evacuation. She said the exercise revealed some shortfalls, such as a lack of information on the medical needs of evacuees coming to Arthur and a failure to keep family members together.

She said county and township emergency responses were “effective and well coordinated.”

According to Mayor Ray Tout the evacuation taught emergency personnel at lot of “quick lessons.”

“It certainly showed people who we are,” Tout said.

County review

Wellington North county councillor Gary Williamson gave council a brief report on county activities.

 Williamson said the county retains its strong AA credit rating despite some tough economic times.

“It’s the highest rating a county can obtain,” Williamson said.

He told councillors visits to the county museum remain strong with regular events held.

“I was surprised it (the museum) has 2,400 visitors monthly,” Williamson added

Development of a high-speed internet service is continuing across the county, Williamson reported.

The county is also in the process of developing a strategic plan for services and work that will need to be done in the future.

According to Williamson, work is also underway to put together the 2012 county budget, which is expected to be passed in late January.

Notice given

Wellington North councillor Andy Lennox put forward a notice of motion for council to consider a performance review of senior staff.

Lennox said the new council, which has served its first year, should undertake a review of senior staff before doing other staff reviews.