Editorial: Communication is essential

Editorial

Tuesday, October 4 2016

The takeaway from talking to off-islanders about the so-called Power Outage on Gabriola: they wanted to hear about the survivalist gulf islanders being prepared, and how this is what it is like to live on a gulf island.

The romantic, “it’s bad, but it ain’t that bad” kind of story.

What they don’t want to hear, or perhaps they don’t know the truth, is most gulf islanders, even the new ones, are better prepared for a power outage like this than their urban citizens.

Be it stores of food, gasoline, a generator, wood stoves, however islanders get through a power outage, they’re capable of doing so.

What makes Gabriolans less comfortable is the idea that we’re cut off from calling for help in an emergency.

Again - to draw the comparison - even if the entire phone system of Victoria, or Nanaimo, or any other city were shut down, chances are people would be able to communicate somehow that an emergency was taking place at a particular location.

With a gulf island, where the nearest neighbour’s house can be a trek on a normal day, getting ‘help’ in an emergency becomes a bit more dicey.

Having essentially every telecommunication - landline, cell phones, and internet - go down for what looks like three days is scary. It’s doubtful Gabriolans realized our entire system was run through a single location, given we pay a myriad of companies for our respective telecommunications.

Having seniors at home alone, “aging in place” on gulf islands is possible because of the Lifeline system. That system depends, solely, on the phone line communicating to Lifeline dispatch that a patient is in distress. Even if the person has a generator, they don’t have a working phone line.

The idea that somewhere on the island, an 80-year-old could be struggling to breath, or even just to stand back up, and no one is being alerted to this fact because the phone line’s been cut - that is terrifying.

And that’s the story we need to communicate to the rest of BC, and especially to the telecommunications companies when they do the long-term fix on this particular incident.

We cannot say, “this was a one-time incident”

And if, as has been suggested, this was a practice drill for when the big ‘earthquake’ hits, that’s a scary thought to consider.

Because if the self-reliant, sustainable living, and well-stocked gulf islanders are having issues with losing just their power and communications - imagine just what the big cities are going to look like should the whole system shuts down.