I can’t speak to the damage done by and response to Fiona in Cape Breton and PEI, which bore the brunt of the storm, but some post-storm observations from my Halifax urban area vantage point:
I was impressed with how rapidly crews cleared at least the main arteries of debris and the worst of the hazards. The provincial and municipal responses were obviously well-prepared, and effective. Good job.
The storm cleanup also gives a lot of work to landscapers, contractors, repair people, and the like, and good for all those people. Oddly, any natural disaster translates into a plus on the GDP ledger as people spend their savings and take out loans to repair stuff, dumping cash into the economy. So if the expected increase in the frequency and strength of storms becomes reality, we’ll all be rich! Homeless, and some dead, sure, but rich.
It’d be unrealistic to think a storm of Fiona’s intensity wouldn’t result in widespread power failures. Obviously, Fiona is different from your typical Thursday morning salty fog, for which we all have little tolerance for extended power failures, so most people are for the moment understanding.
At issue is how quickly Nova Scotia Power can respond. The crews are working hard (I spoke with some as they were securing scenes), but are there enough of them, and have they been properly resourced? It’s not a critique of buddy up the pole repairing a line to hold Nova Scotia Power responsible for the overall effectiveness of the response.
The Nova Scotia Power Outage Map might be useful for a one-off, isolated power failure, but for broad system failure, it’s nearly worthless. I don’t know what to make of the vaguely defined overlapping trapezoids, and especially since there are multiple points of failure indicated within each. I click on the numbered symbols, and they don’t correspond with the reality on the ground.
For example, my house is supposedly one of “fewer than 5” without power, in a cluster of seven “fewer than 5″s, but the several hundred houses in my immediate neighbourhood are all without power.
But for what it’s worth, the map tells us that all of our power will restored on Tuesday at 11pm or Wednesday at 2pm, oddly very specific times, but a time that is either four or five days after the power went out.
This is in the same ballpark of the power failures caused by Hurricane Juan in 2003. Nova Scotia Power has had two decades to better plan for hurricane-related power failures, but has made zero progress.
Losing power is one thing, but losing cell service is another. I couldn’t access the cell (and therefore the internet) for over 40 hours (I could connect yesterday afternoon). Many, many readers tell me they have similar experiences.
Being without power and cell service for a couple of days is usually just an inconvenience, nothing to complain about. For myself, my household made coffee and cooked on the camp stove out on the front porch, remembered what life was like without the internet, talked to each other for a change, and tried to read in the dark. A couple of times, I hopped in the car and drove around to find a live cell tower to contact my family to tell them I was OK, and to check my email. Hardly the end of the world.
But not everything is usual. What if there had been a medical emergency? I don’t know that we could call 911 (I didn’t run the experiment, for obvious reasons).
My landline was dead, too; I’m told that landlines now fail in storms because the telecoms use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), so when the internet goes down, the landline goes down too, which removes the singular advantage of having a landline.
What about people who couldn’t jump in a car to drive around and find cell service? Conversely, the emergency alert system needs to connect with individual cell phones to relay critical information or, dog forbid, emergency warnings, should a natural disaster correspond with an active shooter or some other terrible event — recall that GW’s rampage happened during the COVID lockdown.
The very same cell problems arose during Dorian in 2019, and we were told they would be addressed.
After cell coverage was lost during Dorian, Premier Stephen McNeil said that cell phone, internet, and telephone providers should be at the Emergency Management Office command centre during such events. The CBC reported:
Cell phone towers operate by using electricity from Nova Scotia Power. When that power is interrupted the towers switch to a battery backup, according to Eastlink.
Those batteries can last for about 12 hours. Once drained, the towers won’t work.
The prolonged power outages eventually led to gaps in cellphone service until crews either brought in generators or power was restored.
The federal government says there are no regulations that require cellphone companies to equip their towers with auxiliary power sources.
“We believe it’s an important part of our infrastructure and that’s why we need to make sure that our partners are in the room so we get real information around their infrastructure damage,” said McNeil.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said cell phone companies should be forced to better prepare for emergencies and it’s time for federal and provincial governments to act.
“There needs to be new standards about telecommunications services,” he said. “There need to be new protocols about disruptions of services. And I think it would also be appropriate for the premier to insist to the telecommunications companies that there’d be rebates made to customers who have not had service at a time when they’ve needed it.”
I don’t know what that 12-hour battery thing is all about — I lost cell coverage Friday night, just as Fiona was making landfall.
In any event, a year later, a September 21, 2020 CBC article headlined “cell phone providers ready for whatever Teddy brings,” explained that:
Thousands of Nova Scotians were left in the dark and without any form of communication one year ago after hurricane Dorian ripped through the province, but that shouldn’t happen when Teddy arrives later this week.
Paul Mason, the executive director of Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office in Halifax, said however intense a storm Teddy brings, cell towers should not be impacted, or at least not for as long as last year.
“We’ve been working very closely with all our [critical infrastructure] partners including Bell and Eastlink and the other carriers,” said Mason. “We are certainly looking to ensure that any of the issues around cellular communications are addressed quickly.”
Cell providers are beefing up their emergency crews. Bell-Aliant began their storm preparations last week and emergency teams are on standby.
To manage power outages, their wireless sites are equipped with battery backup power systems and generators can also be activated to keep individual sites up and running until commercial power is restored.
Eastlink has also taken measures to keep their cell towers operating.
“All of our backup generators to critical operational sites are fuelled in preparation for expected power interruptions to keep them running,” said Eastlink spokesperson Jill Laing in an e-mail. “Additionally, we have a number of portable generators available and ready to be urgently deployed if and where needed.”
Or, you know, not.
As Burrill said two years ago, there needs to be new standards about telecommunications services, and new protocols about disruptions of services. That is: regulation, and fines for failure to meet standards.
You’ll note that I use the world “failure,” rather that “outage,” to describe the loss of electricity or cell service. The word “outage” was created by PR people specifically to replace the more accurate world, “failure.” That’s because using “outage” takes agency away from the companies whose job it is to provide power/cellular — it’s just an outage, even less of a casual relationship than Ronald Reagan’s “mistakes were made.” It’s pretty close to an act of god, when you think about it: no mere mortal should be blamed. What are you gonna do?
In Nova Scotia, both the power company and telecoms have among the highest rates in this sector of the Milky Way. Using “failure” put the onus back on the corporations who are making tremendous profits off us. We should be holding them to account for their failure to deliver adequate and essential service.
Still without power yesterday, I took the bus over to the Central Library with the aim of plugging in and charging my devices so I’d have enough power on my laptop and phone to get this post published this morning (without internet, I use my phone’s hotspot to connect the cell to the laptop).
Evidently, about a thousand of my fellow citizens had the same idea. Every outlet in the building was surrounded by people charging devices. People were at all the tables, sitting on the floor, sharing the multi-plug receptacles. I didn’t check, but it wouldn’t surprise me if people were using outlets in the washrooms.
Library staff helpfully opened up the hall and put out tables and all the extension cords they could find. Which is just yet another vital service provided by libraries.
I’m told that some of the fire stations did the same, and on the Dartmouth Common volunteers had fired up the community oven and daisy chained some solar panels to help people recharge devices.
People have been jonesing for coffee.
Saturday morning, the line-up at the Tim’s drive-through on Young Street stretched all the way back to Oxford Street.
Worse, traffic was at a dead stop for 1.3 kilometres on the Bedford Highway from Flamingo Drive all the way to Kearney Lake Road, as cars were backed up on the highway from the drive-thru at the Tim’s just past Flamingo Drive. Not all of these cars were going to the drive-thru, but the highway is just one lane towards Halifax, so the caffeine-cravers caused disruption to hundreds of others, some of whom no doubt were trying to get to work to provide needed services.
It should probably be a ticketable offence to block a public roadway while waiting at a drive-thru. People can park and get out to get their coffee; it’s probably quicker that way anyway.
Drop-in vaccine clinics will be open this week, providing both the primary series, boosters, and the fall bivalent vaccine:
• Moderna – Bivalent Vaccine – 18+
• Pfizer – Primary Series – 12+
• Pfizer – Primary Series and Booster – 5-11 (age 5+ clinics only)
The drop-in clinics are at:
Parents and Children Together (PACT) Resource Centre
Suite 102-1114 Cole Harbour Rd., Dartmouth
Monday, September 26 from 1-4pm
The North Grove
140-6 Primrose St., Dartmouth
Wednesday, September 28 from 1-5pm
Kennetcook Fire Hall
(Anyone ages 5+)
32 Martin Walsh Rd., Kennetcook
Tuesday, September 27 from 11am-2pm
Wentworth Learning Centre
(Anyone ages 5+)
13371 NS-4, Wentworth
Wednesday, September 28 from 11am-2pm
Clinics for children aged 6 months to 4 years will be added in coming weeks.
It’s silly to try to predict population changes over decades. Anything could happen — huge influxes of refugees from wars and climate change, or huge decreases in population due to, er, wars and climate change, but also because hormone-disrupting Phthalates cause global sterility or the meteor strikes or the Christians are finally raptured away, thank god.
More likely, population changes will reflect more prosaic causes, like the kids need to find work in Toronto or Americans begin taking Cape Breton up on the offer of free land.
But here the province is making a huge, well, not prediction exactly, but an aspirational goal of increasing the provincial population from the current 1,000,001 (thereabouts) to 2,000,000 by 2060. On the one hand, that’s a short 38 years during which there must be annual increases of about five percent, year after year, but on the other hand, that’s a long 38 years during which wars and climate change and global sterility and meteors and rapture can happen.
Who knows? It might be fun to see what happens. Or it might be terrible. I doubt I’ll last that long, so you’ll have to increase your aspirational goal by one.
As I’ve said before, a population increase by itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. Premier Tim Houston and the rest of the government tells us that increasing the population is “good for the economy,” but, well, no, not necessarily.
A population increase could be a good thing, especially if the newcomers see their standards of livings, opportunities, and quality of life improved, and the rest of us are enriched not just monetarily but also culturally by the newcomers’ presence.
But a population increase could be a bad thing if the newcomers are merely exploited as cheap labour used to further enrich the already wealthy, leading to increased inequality, taking opportunity away from most people.
There’s a political discussion that must accompany any goals for population growth, and that discussion must include detailed proposals for living wages, minimum wages, how the tax burden is allocated, the cost of university and loans, and more.
If they’re not talking about the above, they’re playing us for suckers.
4. Regional Transportation Plan
I came across the aspirational goal of doubling the province’s population in a tender offer for the creation of a Joint Transportation Plan, which will be a study underlying the actions to be taken by the new Joint Regional Transportation Agency (JRTA), which was created as a new crown corporation by Bill 61 last year.
The JRTA is governed by a board of directors comprising representatives from Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), Nova Scotia Department of Public Works (NSDPW), Halifax Port Authority (HPA), Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA), Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB), and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). So muckity muck central.
According to the tender offer:
The high-level objectives of the study are to:
• Develop a regional transportation plan that supports and enables sustainable growth and the safe, efficient, and coordinated movement of people and goods.
• Support the achievement of the Provincial Government’s growth target of 2,000,000 people in Nova Scotia by 2060.
• Support the achievement of the 2030 and 2050 climate targets per the Nova Scotia Environment Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, HalifACT (HRM’s climate action plan), and other partner action plans.
• Identify and illustrate actions (projects / policies / strategies) on various timescales (5- years, 10 to 15 years, 20 years) and beyond.
Our administrative state is about to get a lot larger.
You can read the tender offer here; scroll down to page 16 for the particulars.
I’m running out of power, so must end Morning File here.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall, and via video) — agenda
Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — appointments to agencies, boards, and commissions; agenda setting
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — Rural Economic Recovery After COVID-19, with representatives from Develop Nova Scotia, Department of Economic Development, and Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities
PhD Defence, Psychology and Neuroscience (Monday, 1pm, online) — Jason Isaacs will defend “A Multi-Method Examination of Social Norms for Medical Prescription Drug Use and Non-Medical Prescription Drug Use Among Post-Secondary Students”
bell hooks teach-in (Monday, 5pm, online) — online conversation with OmiSoore Dryden
Smooth Sailing or Stormy Seas: Tourism Makes a Comeback (Tuesday, 11am, online) — a panel will “explore the myriad issues in a sector returning from the precipice”
In the harbour
01:00: CMA CGM Brazil, container ship (149,314 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
05:30: Morning Chorus, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from sea
06:00: MSC Jersey, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
07:45: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
09:30: Seven Seas Navigator, cruise ship with up to 550 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Baie-Comeau, Quebec, on a very diverted 11-day cruise from Montreal to New York (it has bypassed stops in Corner Brook and Sydney)
09:30: CMA CGM Brazil sails for New York
09:30: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
11:30: Morning Chorus sails for sea
15:45: Insignia, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Saint John
16:45: Seven Seas Navigator sails for Saint John
18:00: Zaandam sails for Sydney
18:30: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
22:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, sails from Pier 23 for Bilboa, Spain
22:30: MSC Jersey sails for sea
23:00: MSC Lucy, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
I’m increasingly understanding that life is just one terrible thing after another.
Off to get my chip updated this morning, with the new bivalent connection directly to Bill Gates’ office, and then to find power.