Earthquake response botched in Ottawa?

The magnitude 5.0 earthquake felt throughout our area (and beyond) in June 23rd was quite an eye-opener. Thankfully, it was a good, hard shake with less serious damage than might have been expected.

But these days the public expects as much information as possible, ASAP.

Turns out the Canadian site for such data didn’t perform all that well.

An article in Sunday’s Ottawa Citizen detailed some of the problems that snarled timely responses:

The Earthquakes Canada website crashed within minutes. So did phone lines to the government seismologists. (The Government Operations Centre, a federal nerve centre for disasters, was reduced to regurgitating news lifted from media websites.)

Natural Resources Canada media staff evacuated their buildings — a sensible step, but one that slowed their ability to answer questions.

Worse, the chain of command snarled. Media staffers were forbidden to answer questions. When they set up a conference call for media hours later, it had to be approved by the Privy Council Office, effectively stalling the flow of information into the evening.

Hmm.   The article goes on to list all sorts of missteps and issues:

…the experts, trying to get the message out, were hamstrung by dead technology and the demands of senior management.

They also illustrate petty jealousies after U.S. officials supplied earthquake data and Canada didn’t.

Apparently this sub-par performance did generate responses.

The bosses at NRCan, as Natural Resources calls itself, were not pleased with the day. The following morning they held an internal debriefing to answer questions such as: Why was there a delay in the conference call? And why did Natural Resources Canada itself quote data from the U.S. Geological Survey?

The department now says conditions have changed drastically since the earthquake.

Gosh, one hopes so. And I mean that sincerely. This is too important to get bogged down in petty politics and bureaucratic nonsense. Kudos to the U.S. Geological Survey for coming through for the continent.  It would be nice to see similar success for Canadian experts who want to serve public good too.

(Thanks to Hank Hofmann for bringing this to my attention after I was away over the weekend.)

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1 Comment on “Earthquake response botched in Ottawa?”

  1. As someone who has worked in government, the requirement that all information be cleared with politically appointees before release is all too familiar. In some situations that may make sense but when dealing with natural disasters the politicians should step aside and let the emergency staffs do their jobs.

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