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Getting word out

by Patrick Raftis

Monday’s storm, which shut down roads and left many without power around the county, provided yet another test of the emergency communication systems, both online and otherwise, around the region.

For the most part, the system worked as planned.

Overnight on Sunday plows had been pulled by both Wellington County and most lower tier municipalities, a situation which persisted well into the morning hours.  Initial alerts from various sources were quick to get out word that all roads in the county had “been deemed as closed by the Wellington County OPP.” That happened in plenty of time to keep all but the most “adventurous” off the roads prior to the morning commute. Still, there were numerous stories of cars in ditches and motorists stranded around the region so either not everyone is getting the message, or some are not heeding it.

The all-roads-closed message was posted on the county’s “notices and closures” page by 6:30am and by 7:30am an update indicated county plows “are returning to operating service in Areas 1, 2 (Centre Wellington and Erin).”

All well and good to that point, but the update, while stating “Roads will be opened through confirmation via OPP as soon as possible,” left the public to their own devices to find out what roads were open and which weren’t.

At around 10:30am the OPP West Region Twitter account, touted as having the closest to “real time” road status updates, was stating “Many Wellington County roads closed, not ALL roads. Extremely poor weather conditions in area and it is advised to avoid travelling if possible.”

About an hour later the County of Wellington tweeted “Please be advised that county and local municipal roads may close due to changing weather conditions. Travel is NOT currently recommended. For the most up to date information, follow @OPP_COMM_WR on Twitter for real time closure information.”

While it’s understood in a storm like this that  roads open and close throughout the day as conditions change, and we acknowledge it’s the OPP, not the county, that makes those calls, it would be useful if the county could manage a more specific tally at least on its “notices and closures” page. Well into the afternoon, various media outlets were repeating the “all roads closed” message, even though that had apparenlty ceased to be the case according the OPP. Some radio announcers began to voice a bit of skepticism, stating “Wellington County still says all roads are closed” as the afternoon wore on.

At the very least, a clear statement that some roads in the county were now open on the notices web page, which has become the go-to source for local road information for many, would have provided a more accurate picture of the situation.

The system for getting county road information out has improved a great deal in the last few years, with the addition of online and social media efforts. While Monday’s experience shows there remains some room for improvement, the system does seem to be working well for getting out early warning of closures and dangerous travel conditions, which is the main objective after all.

Also the county continues to provide access to 24/7 road information through a direct telephone line to its central garage, 1-866-799-4166, a pretty rare personal touch in today’s world of digital communications.

 

March 1, 2019

 
 

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