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HILLSBURGH – Last night’s boil water advisory incident response was “night and day” compared to the one in Erin last March, says Erin’s fire chief..

During a council meeting Thursday afternoon, Erin fire chief Jim Sawkins said that while many mistakes were made during Erin’s boil water advisory in March, they weren’t repeated yesterday – a trend he expects will continue. 

“The (March) dissemination of the boil water advisory was half-haphazard and did not effectively get out to the residents that were affected by the advisory,” said Sawkins. “I use the word haphazard just because it was basically shoot from the hip and ideas came up as we moved along.” 

But Hawkins was quick to clarify that they learned from their mistakes and will continue to improve their responses with community feedback and practice. 

“One thing I did notice, was how difficult it was for Joe Public to (access information),” said Sawkins. “It should be a quick front page click and then residents are right to the information they need”

In the future, residents will need only to find a tab at the top of the main website “to be more visible.”

“It’s important that we use all these emergencies as a learning experience and grow from it,” said Sawkins. “Nobodies perfect and obviously not every situation is the same so we can’t just cut and paste all the time.” 

According to Sawkins, he received his first notification at 5:34 p.m. from Coun. Jamie Cheyne, and another from the CAO at 6:19 p.m. Trucks had delivered notices to every resident affected by the incident by 8:25 p.m.

The town didn’t receive a boil water advisory from the Ontario Clean Water Agency until 7:16 pm. 

“Emergency management is about taking a bad day and trying to make sure that the effect is the least as possible the public experiencing it,” said Sawkins. “Yes, there’s a lot of things that we can still improve on but we have to be open-minded.” 

In the future, staff are creating pre-made templates for the boil water advisories to speed up the process in the case of future incidents. 

Addressing the concerns about delayed notice related to water samples on the 11th, Hawkins clarified that “at no time the public was at risk.”

Of the six weekly samples from Hillsburgh, one failed and showed signs of E-coli. It came from the end of Spruce Street at a “dead end hydrant, ” meaning the water is stagnant and not flowing. 

“The big complaint originally was that the notices didn’t provide enough information (but) you’re not going to get that in an initial notification,” said Sawkins. “There has been a lot of backlash but you have to be able to be open to listening to the public so you can improve your service,”

Updated boil water advisory results should be available between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. tomorrow night. 

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

By Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 14, 2023 at 08:38

This item reprinted with permission from   Guelph, Ontario
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