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‘Our community has rallied behind us’

Posted on April 12, 2022 by Maple Creek
Top table: Pictured from left: Len Barkman, deputy mayor and emergency planning team leader; councillor Betty Abbott; Savannah Mass, communications and tourism manager; Gillian Moch, economic development officer; councillor Al Fournier; tony Goode, interim chief administrative officer; and Dalyce Hammer, financial assistant who was appointed interim CEO while Kerrie Chabot was away.

Half-closed empty pizza boxes lying on a table. Another box with three remaining glazed doughnuts. A steaming coffee dispenser. Styrofoam cups.
The mundane sights greeting anyone entering the large conference room at Maple Creek’s Community Fire Hall last week were synonymous with a group locked in lengthy, open-ended discussions. Nobody was expecting an adjournment anytime soon.
Seven figures sat around a long table positioned to the left of the room. Before them were laptops, tablets, cellphones, and bottles of water. Faces were familiar to those with an interest in Town affairs.
At the head was Councillor Len Barkman, deputy mayor. His seating position suggested a man in charge.
When the snowstorm slammed Maple Creek on Tuesday morning, Michelle McKenzie, the mayor, was in Regina, attending the four-day convention of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, which meant that the responsibility for managing the unfolding crisis fell on Councillor Barkman.
On Barkman’s right was Dalyce Hammer, financial assistant for the Town (she was appointed interim Chief Executive Officer, effective March 7, while Kerrie Chabot was away) and on his left Councillor Betty Abbott. The others were Tony Goode, interim Chief Administrative Officer; Savannah Mass, communications and tourism manager; Gillian Moch, economic development officer; and Councillor Al Fournier, at the far end of the table.
This group is the Town’s crisis planning team, although there doesn’t seem to be a fixed term for it. As the Town does not yet have an Emergence Response Coordinator (ERC), the role is fulfilled by the mayor, or deputy mayor when she is away.
After the storm struck, Barkman and McKenzie discussed how best to proceed. By 11.30am on Tuesday, a management team had been assembled at the Town Office.
The first meeting lasted until 6.30pm. The next day, the command centre was moved to the fire hall, which is heated by a generator, unlike the Town Office.
On Wednesday afternoon, the News-Times was invited to the fire hall to learn about planning for the emergency. The atmosphere was calm and relaxed, belying the intensity that must lie behind discussions.
Here is an edited version of the interview, principally done with Councillor Len Barkman.
Question: What is the function of the planning team?
Len Barkman: We started yesterday, determining what needs to happen in light of the power outages. Our main concern was the power outage at the water treatment plant. So, we put a plan in place. As we are speaking, a generator is probably being hooked up at the water plant.
Question: Yes, I saw Andrew Hecker (Public Works Operator, based at the water treatment plant), leaving the fire hall as I entered. Was he going to the water treatment plant?
Barkman: That is where he was probably headed, to ensure the generator gets hooked up. We are hoping that before supper we will have the water treatment plant up and running with the generator that we have got.
Betty Abbott: Even with a generator, that does not mean you can use all the water.
Barkman: No, that’s the thing. Even when we have our water treatment plant up and running with a generator that doesn’t mean you can go full-bore with doing everything, using all our water. We still have mandatory water restrictions in place. We are not really sure how the system is going to respond to what we are doing.
Question: What’s your message to the public?
Barkman: We still need to conserve water. We are hoping that the power will get restored and remember that the water is definitely safe to drink. There is no issue with that, it’s been treated and we still have a good reserve.
Question: How effective are the restrictions?
Barkman: We are pleased that our town has been adhering to the water restrictions and is doing a wonderful job at not using so much water. The residents have been doing a phenomenal job and need to continue conserving water.
Question: What else are you doing?
Barkman: We have also set up a warming place at The Salvation Army. I’ve been over there and Major Ed and his crew are doing a tremendous job in providing a place 24 hours.
They have food, shelter, and warmth. People can also charge up their phones.
We are really thankful that The Salvation Army can do it because they are fully operational on a generator.
Question: Who else have you been working with?
Barkman: We have been working with emergency response guys and helping to get the Nekaneet set up as well. The emergency response team (Trevor Leggett from Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency has been working with an emergency response team) has been absolutely amazing in helping us out. They dropped off a bunch of generators here this afternoon. So, they have been tremendous in supplying us with generators that we are in process of getting hooked up to places that need heat.
The RM of Maple Creek had a spare generator, which has helped get us a warming station at The Salvation Army. We are hoping that is holding out. We haven’t heard they are overwhelmed over there.
Question: What about the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility?
Barkman: They have their own generator.
Abbott: They checked in to see what we were doing and they are holding their own.
Question: How are people on oxygen faring?
Barkman: People who rely on oxygen concentrators need a power outlet.
We were concerned about those requiring oxygen who lived in a place without power, and that’s why we made it accessible for them to go to The Salvation Army. Or else they can contact us.
If people need a ride we have the handibus to pick them up for no cost to be transported where they need to go. We made that available to them.
Question: Has it been a challenge to disseminate information?
Barkman: It has definitely been a challenge. Yesterday (Tuesday, April 5) was especially a challenge to get out because of the weather.
It was hazardous getting out in that storm.
We did do a phone blitz yesterday. The crew here did a tremendous job going through the phone book for Maple Creek and phoning people and letting them know what was up and giving them some updates. Today, we went from door to door, thanks to Brad Drever from the Plymouth Brethren and his crew, who sent out notices with updates. We sure appreciate the Plymouth Brethren. They got around the whole town.
Question: Who else has been helping you?
Barkman: Our fire department has been big. Firefighters are actually delivering meals to some of the seniors tonight. The meals are being cooked by Major Ed at The Salvation Army, and the fire department is taking them to people. That’s big. We appreciate that. Our Public Works crew have also been out there clearing branches up today. They are going to be out there more. The Public Recreation department has also been very busy. We’ve had a lot of people helping us get through this time.
Question: Do the downed power lines pose a danger?
Barkman: There still could be power in power lines, even when they are down. It is not a good idea to go near them.
Dalyce Hammer: They say you should stay back 10 metres from them.
Question: Do you know how many poles are down?
Gillian Moch: It is reported that there are 200 to 300 poles down in the southwest.
Question: What about in town?
Barkman: There have been poles down in town. A power pole went down by the North Lift Station.
Question: You appear calm. What has it been like for you to have been thrown into managing this crisis?
Barkman: You know, what has kept me calm is a great team. We have a great Town team and I think we have done very well in getting out what we needed to communicate. I am very pleased with the team we have in place and they need to be commended for what they have done.
(At this point in the interview, people around the table praised Len Barkman for his leadership).
Question: How has the community responded to the emergency?
Barkman: I want you to put in a good word to our community. Our community has rallied behind us and been great in helping us get through this. It’s when we have challenges that the community comes together. I think we’ve seen that. The community should be commended for cooperating and helping.
Question: Are we through the worst of the crisis?
Barkman: We still have to do some planning to get us to where we are fully restored.
Nevertheless, we have things in place setting us in the right direction. I believe the next time we have an emergency like this we will be even better prepared.
I would like to give a big shout-out to Schafer Electric and Justin McFarlane, who has been phenomenal in hooking up generators for us. Lots of businesses and residences have been hooked up by him. What he has done for us has been big.
Question: Has anyone been injured?
Barkman: I’m just thankful that nobody has been hurt. There have been people off the highway who were stranded, but no reports of injuries.
Question: Why was this storm so destructive to power lines?
Barkman: It was gusty. The gusting causes things to move.
On top of that there was the heavy snow. So, with the combination of wind and wet, heavy snow, the power lines had no chance.
Abbott: It was literally snowing sideways. There was so much wind.
Barkman: The system sat on top of us. It was very slow to move.

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