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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On Being Prepared

Re: Be Prepared, Ottawa Citizen, City Editorial, D4, July 4, 2007

Wednesday’s Citizen article on the preparedness of local authorities in the event of a ‘dirty bomb’ gives pause for serious thought. Within a one kilometre radius of the Parliament Buildings are the offices of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister, the Supreme Court, Treasury Board, Public Safety & Emergency Management Canada, DND Headquarters, the Bank of Canada, Place du Portage (home to HRSDC, Service Canada and others), Ottawa City Hall, Gatineau City Hall, the Ontario Courthouse, the University of Ottawa, the CBC, the Library and Archives Canada, NavCan, the Museum of Civilization, the National Gallery, the Rideau Centre, the World Exchange Centre and most of the City’s major office towers. Should a strong wind be blowing most of the City’s embassies as far east as the Ottawa River would likely become contaminated as well.

Make no mistake a ‘dirty bomb’ in Ottawa would be almost as disastrous as a real nuclear blast without the physical destruction. It would effectively cut off the head of the federal and municipal governments. Not so much in any immediate loss of life but in the fact that workers in buildings in the contaminated area would have to don hazmat suits on the way to work in the morning. The information systems contained in these buildings would also be surrounded by radiological ‘hot zones’ which would likely make them inaccessible (For cost saving reasons a lot of the federal government’s data is not backed up in other locations.) The City would likely be without water for some time because fallout would contaminate the river and the City’s water supply is primarily downstream of Parliament Hill. Ottawa’s economy would be destroyed. Tourism would cease. Property values would disappear. And many of those who wouldn’t just immediately pack up and leave would be those in the most at risk Lowertown area, exacerbating a health emergency that would already be over stretched.

This leaves the editor’s comments regarding cooperation among federal, provincial and municipal authorities being like “herding cats” as being particularly troubling. In the event of such a catastrophe are citizens just supposed to roll over and die because these authorities can’t play nice? I’m all for preventive measures but stuff does happen. And in the end it’s frequently not the things you plan for that are the real problem but the things you don’t plan for. The only way to deal with these types of uncertainties is by having the capacity to create responses 'on the fly' and that means cooperative governance mechanisms must already be in place. Whoever is left to clean up the mess must already be in the habitat of talking to and trusting their counterparts in other agencies and levels of government, businesses and community organizations. If not, while a ‘dirty bomb’ might damage the City, institutional gridlock, a.k.a. “difficult negotiations”, could certainly kill it.

Chris Wilson


Be prepared, The Ottawa Citizen, Wednesday, July 04, 2007


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