A large metal container sits just outside the rear door of Oak Bay municipal hall.
For those familiar with backup power generators, the mystery of what’s inside is easily solved. But those who haven’t encountered such mechanical beasts may be further scratching their heads, once municipal staffers cover the box with a wrap resembling the bricks on the wall behind it.
The fact the district’s new reserve generator will blend into the background in no way diminishes its critical role in Oak Bay’s emergency preparedness.
“This is the last piece of the puzzle as far as power infrastructure goes,” said fire chief and emergency program co-ordinator Dave Cockle. The fire hall and police station have had backup generators for years, he said, while public works has a portable unit available.
The new 80-kilovolt generator, powered by a three-cylinder John Deere diesel engine, will keep systems running at the hall for three days in the event disaster strikes and severs connection to the power grid.
Given that Oak Bay has shifted its emergency control centre from the fire hall to the municipal hall, this piece of insurance could make the difference in getting support where it is needed, and quickly.
“This is a vital component of our infrastructure that we now have to deal with a major disaster,” said Mayor Nils Jensen. “In any disaster, it’s critical that we can connect with emergency services and also with the volunteers working out in the field.”
The installation of the generator coincides with the upgrading of the hall’s rooftop communication antennas and the amateur radio operations hub in the council chambers.
“We can reach out further now than we ever could before,” Cockle said. “As the technology improves, our ability to communicate does as well.”
A crew of 14 volunteer operators meet in the hall every Wednesday night to test the communications system and ensure channels to other radio operators around the region and beyond are kept open.
Of course, the generator isn’t only designated for times of serious disaster. It is programmed to monitor spikes in power flow to the building, say, in a major storm, and kick in quickly during localized outages.
“Twice in the past 14 months Oak Bay has had power outages lasting nine or 10 hours,” Cockle said.
The $92,000 cost of the generator and its installation by Victoria’s Emery Electric came from reserve funding the district began setting aside nearly five years ago.
The radio improvements cost about $12,000, but the cost of the new cabinet containing the radios, which hide away nicely at the back of the council chambers, was covered with a donation from the Davis family. The late Jim Davis was an avid radio operator.