Public policy papers Emergency Management and the August 14th, 2003 Blackout Brenda L. Murphy, Ph.D. Wilfrid Laurier University Brantford Campus June 2004 ICLR Research Paper Series – No. 40
On August 14th, 2003, fifty million Canadian and American citizens were left without electricity in some cases for over 48 hours. In Ontario alone, over 9 million people were affected. The source of the power outage was a series of problems with an Ohio-based energy corporation, First Energy. A joint Canada-United States task force was set up to investigate the electricity outage and recommend improvements to the electricity management system. (Their final report is available at www.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/media/docs/final/finalrep_e.htm).
This report outlines the results of a 1203 person, general population survey conducted in February 2004 regarding Ontario residents’ emergency management perspectives and activities pertaining to the August 14th, 2003 electricity blackout. The report also outlines the extent to which the community type (e.g. city/town-village/rural) influences emergency management at the household level. The results are considered reliable at the 95% confidence level, (+/- 2.8%). The Blackout event is a unique opportunity to study individual and household capacities to deal with emergencies since it is rare for risk events to simultaneously affect such a large geographical area. More typically, disaster research must rely on geographically isolated case studies, where the local situation and results are not necessarily typical of the broader context. The limitation of studying the Blackout is that while the event affected a large geographical area, the actual impact on most areas was relatively minor – virtually no infrastructure was damaged and few, if any people were killed or hurt during the event. Thus, the strongest results provided in this report are related to understanding people’s pre-existing emergency coping strategies and community patterns. The impacts summarized here would be more typical of a more minor emergency event, not a major disaster. Nevertheless, the report is important because it points to key emergency management concerns regarding the extent to which Ontario residents are prepared for any kind of risk event – from small to large scale.
After providing some background on emergency management, the results of the study are outlined. The final section then delineates the implications of these findings and provides recommendations regarding increasing the resiliency of Ontario’s citizens to emergencies and disasters. Due to the broad nature of this study these results will generally be widely applicable to many developed world contexts, across a range of community sizes, particularly in North America.