Whitehorse to post emergency plan following power outage in frigid weather

An outage that plunged thousands of people in and around Whitehorse into darkness for several hours at frigid temps this week has spurred the City of Whitehorse to post a step-by-step emergency plan online.

Fire chief Mike Dine said the project is now a top priority, and should happen sometime this year.

"Citizens of Whitehorse want something that they can look at to see what they need to do," he said. "We've identified that there is a need for that communication piece ... It's hard to believe that it's not already [online]."

On Tuesday, approximately 2,000 people lost power at around 3:30 a.m. on the coldest day of winter so far. The high that day, according to Environment Canada, was –35 C. 

Five hours later, power was restored to 1,000 people, and ATCO Electric Yukon worked to gradually reconnect the rest of those affected throughout the day. About 150 people waited nine hours for power.

Dines says the city does have an emergency plan for winter power outages, but Tuesday's outage wasn't long enough to trigger it. He says outages are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"We only got to the heads-up stage," he said, of Tuesday's outage.

Following Yellowknife's lead

Dine says Whitehorse will follow the City of Yellowknife's lead in preparing a step-by-step emergency preparation guide for residents. Yellowknife has deemed winter power outages to be one of the city's greatest risks, along with forest fires.

Yellowknife's plan — posted online — details how long a power outage needs to be and at what temperatures, in order for the city to take certain measures such as opening warming centres.

"We've identified some of our municipal buildings and we have identified other buildings within Yellowknife that have backup generation power that we can activate as warming centres, if need be," said Doug Gillard, manager of emergency management for the City of Yellowknife.

Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada

Dine says Whitehorse's emergency master plan was last revised in 2013, and is due for a review. That's happening this year, he said.

He also stresses that people need to also prepare themselves for outages by always having at least a few days' worth of emergency supplies on hand.

"It's a balancing act for sure," he said. "We as a city ... have an obligation and commitment to take care of our citizens."

"But ... because we live, many of us, in a more remote area ... we should expect to be able to take care of ourselves for, they say 72 hours."