Think Energy

Emergency preparedness in the age of climate change

Nov 20, 2023

Are you prepared for a prolonged power outage? Extreme weather is more common due to climate change. Canada’s experienced disastrous tornadoes, wildfires, and wind and ice storms over the past few years alone, leading to massive disruption to utilities and public safety. Be prepared, stay informed. Dive into the urgent discussion on emergency preparedness in episode 125 of thinkenergy, featuring insights from Hydro Ottawa’s CEO, Bryce Conrad, and Canadian Red Cross Disaster Management Volunteer, Guy Lepage.

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Dan Seguin  00:06

This is think energy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back. We're going to take a different direction for today's show. For the first time, I don't have a guest lined up. Instead, on today's show, I'm going to talk about a topic that is close to my heart as a communicator in the electricity sector. And it's something that affects us all. prolonged power outages caused by major weather events. More specifically, I want to talk about what each of us can do to take personal responsibility during a crisis, and how we can all take steps to plan for prolonged outages due to an ice storm, a tornado, heat waves or major wind storms. Now, most of the time, power outages are over shortly after they begin. But with a major storm outages can last much longer. We've all experienced being without power for an extended period of time. And we know that extreme weather events have become more frequent and intense due to climate change. And wow, Canada has certainly experienced his share of national disasters recently, something that we all felt for the first time was the effect of forest fires this past summer. According to the Canadian interagency Forest Fire Center, there were approximately 6623 fires recorded across Canada in 2023, burning a total of 18 million hectares. These fires wiped out entire forest communities, and all infrastructure that supports those that live in these areas including their electricity. Here in Ottawa, we only experienced poor air quality, unlike anything I have ever seen in my lifetime living in the nation's capital. Also in Ottawa this year, there was an Easter ice storm in April, tornadoes that touched down in the south end of the city in the summer, and a number of lightning strikes in June, July and August that broke records and caused a number of outages in the region. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my boss, Bryce Conrad, President and CEO of Hydro Ottawa, back in February 2022. At that time, I asked him how concerned he was with climate change. Listen to his response. You'll think he just said this yesterday. Here's what he had to say then.

Bryce Conrad  03:03

So let's just state categorically that climate change is real. You know, as I sit here today, it's minus 27,000 degrees outside. People go "oh global warming, why is it so damn cold? And of course, you just want to smack people that say things like that. But God's honest truth is climate change is not about the day to day weather, it's about weather patterns. It's about  how, you know, in the past, we've had wind storms and ice storms, we've had eight tornadoes, including one in downtown Nepean. You know, we've had a one in 100 year flood, followed by a one in 1000 year flood. We've had heat waves that have stretched and taxed our system. And all of this is just like, quite frankly, within the past five years. So that's what climate change means. It means unpredictable, changing, dramatically changing weather patterns. And if you run a utility, like I do, or like we do, you don't like that. You know, our infrastructure is built to withstand X. It's not well not built to withstand x plus 30%, or x plus 50%. So, you know, when a wind storm comes through, the infrastructure is ready to sustain winds up to 90 miles an hour or something like that. Well, you know, we all saw what happened when tornadoes came through, you know, 130 miles or 160 miles an hour, right? Those poles snapped like twigs. That's what climate change means. So, you know, it's terrifying. It's absolutely terrifying. And, you know, it's something that we have to start to build into our plans as to how we build better in the future. Sure, so are we building our infrastructure to withstand 90 mile an hour winds? Are we building them to withstand 150 mile an hour winds? While there's a cost difference to that, obviously, but the answer is, yeah, we've got to do a better job of building stronger, more resilient infrastructure. If you're building you know, if you saw during the floods, the Chaudiere Facility, which is our new generating asset down at Chaudiere Falls. You know, you were seeing for the first time in history, all 50 of the gates of the ring dam were open. And there was more, I think it was two Olympic swimming pools were passing through the gates every second. The waterfall, the water, the speed in the waterfall was faster than the Niagara Falls. Like I mean, these are things that shouldn't be happening in downtown Ottawa, but have happened three times since I've been here, and that's 10 years. So if anyone wants to have a debate about whether or not climate change is real, call me up. Let's have that conversation. Because it's very real, and it's going to dramatically impact our future. In terms of the energy transition, I think I talked a bit about it. But you know, when we bottle out, and look at what our future looks like, 50 years from now, our infrastructure looks fundamentally different than it does today. It's in fundamentally different places than it is today. You know, we're going to rely upon artificial intelligence, machine learning. You know, each and every one of those, like, everything will be censored up. So, you know, the idea is that, as opposed to us rolling a track to fix something that's broken or down, we can sort of simply reroute it from the control center. So yes, we still have to get out there and fix what's broken. But for you, the customer of Hydro Ottawa, you actually won't notice the impact because the power will have switched over to another source instantaneously. That's the goal.

Dan Seguin  07:09

Some powerful words from Bryce Conrad, President, CEO of Hydro Ottawa, about climate change, and its effects on the electricity grid. I found his comments about how the advancement of artificial intelligence could result in a self healing grid. And the customer wouldn't even know that there was an outage because the system would be smart enough to know to reroute the power from another source. Sounds futuristic indeed, but something worthy to work towards. Since this is likely a couple of decades off, I want to spend a little bit of time sharing how utilities tackled power outages and restoration today. It's important to understand how it all works. You may be surprised to learn that utilities observe and monitor weather conditions, staying on top of changing weather patterns, so they can alert customers about possible outages in advance. Weather warnings are issued and Hydro Ottawa crews are put on standby to respond to emergencies. During the Ottawa ice storm back in April 2023. More than 225 internal and external field resources were called up to repair damage across the city of Ottawa. This was the second highest use of resources in hydraulic was historic, and it proves the point that utilities are taking these weather events seriously. To provide some perspective, I think it helps understand how utilities assess and restore power after a storm. It's important for us to know this so we can manage our expectations. In today's world we want it all now on demand. It's good to know what happens behind the scenes and the rationale that determines why some customers get restored before others. After a major storm causes widespread outages. The first job of the utility is to investigate the extent of the damage and determine the resources required to restore the power. Here's a general breakdown of how many utilities prioritize restoration after they've performed an assessment of the damage. Priority One: respond to public safety issues and emergencies. Priority two: fix critical electrical system infrastructure like substations and main power lines. Priority three: restore power to critical infrastructure and emergency services like hospitals, airports, water and sewage treatment plants. Priority four: repair power lines that will restore power to the largest number of customers. Priority five: we store smaller clusters of neighborhoods. And finally, priority six: respond to individual homes and businesses that may have sustained damage to their own electrical equipment. Public and personal safety are top of mind for restoration crews who must also deal with the aftermath of any storm, including falling trees, branches, windy conditions, heavy fog, thunder, lightning, and icy roads, all of which make restoring power difficult. And while restoring power is their main purpose, it's important that these brave women and men do not put their lives at risk. conditions have to be safe for them to work. So now, let's get to the part where we find out what we can do as individuals before, during and after a major storm that has caused widespread damage and a power outage. To kick off this section, I'm going to first play a clip from an interview I did earlier this year with Guy Lepage, a disaster management volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross. Guy has been deployed to some of the world's biggest disasters and relief operations here in Canada, and overseas. No matter the emergency, big or small. I asked Guy during our conversation how Canadians can better prepare for emergencies in general, and especially during prolonged outages, being self-sufficient for three days is still the golden rule. Here's what he had to say.

Guy Lepage  11:37

Yes, three days is the golden rule. You have to plan to sit around your kitchen table with your family, or do it yourself and sit and plan for 72 hours (three days) from the perspective that I can't get out of my house because of a snowstorm, ice storm, fire whatever the situation. Can I stay in my home for 72 hours to carry on a normal lifestyle and a sense that I need to eat, I need to bathe, I need medication for people who need medication in my house, you have to plan ahead because if you don't, and you figure, hey, first responders will come and take care of me well, they may not be able to because there'll be taking care of other people with greater needs. So as I said, You need to have enough water and we're talking three liters per person a day, one liter to drink and two liters. To wash and bathe. You need to have enough dry goods, you need to have enough food that won't go bad. If you are using an electric can opener. Have a manual one. If you depend on the internet and your cell phone, you need to have a crank operated radio or battery operated radio so you can listen to the local emergency newscast to find out hey, how long am I on my own here, okay. But most importantly, if anyone in your home needs medication, you need to have more than three days worth on hand. I'll give you an example in 2013. Here in the Greater Toronto Area, there was a major ice storm. And major portions of the area were without power for more than three days. We set up a shelter in Ajax where I live. And on Christmas morning I'm going around the different rooms in a community Senator we've set up where people stayed overnight. There was a elderly gentleman in a wheelchair, who said, You know last night when I arrived, I only had one pill left for my heart condition. I had to cut it in half. So I've taken half, I'm down to my last half. What am I going to do? So luckily, we had a nurse on hand who was able to find a pharmacy that was open and we replaced his medication. But if this is a scenario that you're in your home with someone who takes life saving medication, heart condition, insulin for diabetes, whatever. And then you can't leave for three days and you run out of medication that could have catastrophic consequences. So always plan ahead to have enough medication. Enough pet food and enough water enough dry goods to survive on your own for three days.

Dan Seguin  14:17

That was Guy Lepgage, disaster management volunteer with Canadian Red Cross, talking about his experience as a person who has had his boots on the ground during numerous disasters here in Canada and abroad. He mentioned something very interesting, and I'm going to leave it with you today. As probably the most important takeaway from this show, come up with a three day plan. A great place to start and I'm a little biased here is to go to hydro and visit the emergency preparedness section. There. You will find resources and information about what to consider when building that plan. I hope this episode has helped you consider having those necessary conversations around emergency preparedness. I know this is a departure from our usual podcast programming, but it's an important topic as winter weather approaches. Now, I hope you found this episode worthwhile and informative. Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you had a lot of fun. Cheers. Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the think energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit And I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.