Matt Ilott of Beckwith Township is one of many residents along the Mississippi River to have endured the flood waters this spring. Ilott’s one-year old home was spared thanks to current building requirements that saw the home built on higher ground and with a raised septic tank. Ilott and surrounding rural communities say they have learned lessons from this 2019 flood experience. Photo Submitted.

Flood reveals potential improvements to area’s emergency response system

This spring’s flood waters brought to the surface a number of emergency response lessons for residents and local politicians along the Mississippi River. Now that the waters are receding, town leaders are turning their attention towards how the next flood can be handled better.

The areas of communication, supply and demand and volunteer co-ordination came out as three of the most critical elements to consider when debriefing from the 2019 flood, which significantly impacted residents in the municipalities of Mississippi Mills, Beckwith Township and Drummond North Elmsley Township.

“We’ve all learned from it,” added Matt Ilott, a waterfront property owner in Beckwith Township. “The frustration level raised on several occasions”.

Frustration fueled by panic in a crisis and the difficulty of reaching township representatives over the holiday weekend when the waters first came knocking on the door. Ilott said he reached out to a handful of township staff and councillors, but didn’t hear back and so purchased his own sandbags and sand for the long weekend. This quick action saved his home from damage. Beckwith Reeve Richard Kidd said sandbags were available at the township garage over the long weekend, however ensuring the affected residents knew what the township was doing in those early days was a challenge. All communities noted the importance of social media during crisis situations and the need to continue to work on how messages are delivered on that medium. The Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) and Rideau Valley Conservation Authority were given a gold star by municipalities and residents alike for how well they kept the community informed of projected water levels and other news as the flood unfolded.

“They did an outstanding job”, Ilott said, adding someone was always there to answer the phone and his questions.

Raw materials was another headache for municipalities. Kidd noted the struggle the township had in obtaining sandbags this flood season.

“We got as many bags out of Ottawa as we could,” Reeve Kidd said, noting they were able to purchase 20,000 heavy plastic sandbags from the capital with another 25,000 coming from Kingston.

“We have to come up with a secure way of ensuring that there is a lot of sandbags”, Reeve Kidd said.

He said sandbags are not able to be warehoused due to how they are made to decompose in time, and when a flood hits the demand from communities is so great that suppliers quickly run out. Reeve Kidd said their next point of sandbag purchasing was to be Manitoba should they have needed more than 45,000 sandbags they bought.

This season’s flood also solidified the need to update Beckwith Township’s sandbag distribution policy. This was a topic of discussion through the winter months, but the April and May rains have provided the township with concrete numbers to plug into the policy. The document will set out at what water level the township will begin to distribute sandbags at satellite locations beyond the garage. Both Beckwith and Mississippi Mills provided sandbags at several locations throughout their communities during the flood period in hopes of shortening the distance for residents who were sandbagging their property.  

Mississippi Mills Mayor Christa Lowry reminds affected residents that their community continues to be behind them during the clean up. Both Mississippi Mills and Beckwith Township are collecting names of volunteers who are willing to help residents dispose of their sandbags and help clean up after the water flows back within lake beds. Any sandbag that has come into contact with flood water is considered contaminated waste. Please go to your community’s website to get instruction on how to dispose of them safely.

“I couldn’t be more proud of how the community stepped up,” Mayor Lowry said.

All communities enjoyed a healthy stream of volunteers, including many Carleton Place council members who lent a hand to their neighbours. Mayor Lowry said creating a system to organize the flood of volunteers that came forward is one of her priorities following the crisis period. Her thoughts are with those who continue to clean up after the floods.

During the week of May 6 both communities welcomed representatives from the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontario program. If the program decides to activate in Lanark County as they have in Ottawa, affected residents would be eligible for funding to cover emergency expenses and repairs that aren’t covered by insurance.

“I hope they do it for all three of us together,” said Reeve Kidd who also serves as Lanark County Warden this year. Mayor Lowry was in contact with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing who manages the funding program and was assured Lanark County communities would hear very soon on their decision.

Article by Stacey Roy

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