Last Thursday’s Precautionary Boil Water Advisory represented an emergency initiation in more ways than one in the Town of St. Marys.
It was the first time a recently updated municipal Emer-gency Notification Plan had to be used. It was the first water-related emergency in the town since the Ontario Clean Water Agency took over all aspects of operation of the town’s drinking water supply system.
And, perhaps most importantly for CAO Kevin McLlwain, it was the first emergency since the municipality really and truly joined the worldwide web.
The intricacies of emergency plans are pretty much dictated by provincial legislation. And OCWA’s business is water resources management; if they aren’t prepared for emergencies, then there’s no way they would get themselves hired by so many municipalities to do what they do.
But the aspects of last week’s so-called emergency, as they unfolded on the Internet, have no such oversight or control. Things can go wrong very quickly online. And that’s why, as McLlwain spoke to the Journal Argus last Friday in the midst of the Advisory, it’s not surprising that he would focus on the efforts of Town staff to be the definitive virtual voice about the situation.
A malfunction of the ultraviolet treatment system was identified before 11 p.m. on Thursday. The Health Unit was contacted, assessed the situation, and issued the Advisory in the very early morning hours of Friday.
By 3:30 a.m., a notification was placed on the Town’s Facebook page. According to McLlwain, by 5 a.m., 489 people had read that notification. That was about the same time paper notices began being posted on doorways throughout the town.
More information was uploaded to Facebook at about 6 a.m., and by 7 a.m. a blanket email had been sent out to all subscribers of the town’s “Media Alert” service.
There were certainly many voices echoing McLlwain’s praise of the speed with which residents became aware of the situation. But not everyone was so happy. Some complained they didn’t see the posted papers because they were stuck to the front door — an entrance which, at many residences, is barely used. Others complained the postings weren’t taped to their doors until late in the day.
Peculiarly, some of the loudest criticisms originated from Facebook and other online venues. These people, who are computer literate,quite obviously have chosen NOT to maintain a virtual relationship with the town even though more than one opportunity for such a relationship exists.
If they did link on Facebook with the town, or subscribe to the Media Alerts, they would have known. And should the town be blamed for that? Perhaps not.