Communication breakdown

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In the wake of recent boil water advisories for Wheatley and Tilbury, Chatham-Kent is examining the possibility of establishing a new way to communicate with residents about emergencies.

A decision to explore the idea was made by council recently, following a motion put forward by West Kent Coun. Lauren Anderson after she raised concerns in the wake of a recent fire at the Wheatley water treatment plant that triggered the boil water advisories.

Anderson said “better communication is never a bad thing,” adding she learned some of the affected residents remained unaware of the threat.

“I think there’s always room for improvement and it definitely warrants the conversation, especially when we’re in a time where the best communication possible is needed. I had several people that were saying they didn’t even know about the boil water advisory until several days later – despite us having ample effort to get communication out there,” she said.

Anderson said it’s important for municipality to look at some sort of “mass advisory” system and it should be done as soon as possible.

The motion calls on administration to look into methods such as a text messaging system, an automated phone service, a subscription system, among other possibilities.

The action by council highlights the challenges raised by the federal government’s introduction of Bill C-18, which asks tech giants Meta and Google to compensate Canadian news outlets for the tech mega corporations using content generated by those media outlets. The bill has prompted an across-the-board ban by Meta – which operates Facebook – to stop allowing Canadian news agencies to share content on their platforms.

The Bill C-18 issue has led to a dearth of information available to members of the public who typically rely on platforms such as Facebook to access and share emergency information.

Municipal CAO Michael Duben said he supported the motion, but noted there’s no single answer to the issue at present.

“We’re always looking at ways that we can communicate with as many people as possible,” Duben told council, adding that an electronic subscription method would require people to sign up.

“Even if people do agree to be part of it, we’re still going to have to find other ways to communicate and cover as much ground as we can,” Duben said. “I support this idea. If it’s not for a boil water advisory, who knows what’s going to come up in the future? Having some method to get to people is going to be helpful.”

The Bill C-18 standoff has already led to emergency communication issues in Chatham-Kent. Following the fierce Aug. 24 storm, emergency personnel had trouble communicating with residents about the cleanup, despite their best efforts.

Chatham-Kent Fire and Rescue Chief Chris Case said that Facebook has been the traditional go-to method of sharing information with local residents, and not being able to utilize that channel through the media is affecting communicating to the public.

In order to vote on Anderson’s motion immediately, council agreed to waive the usual notice requirement period to allow voted on that same evening.

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