Oak Bay set out to answer some tough questions around the Nov. 20 Bowker Avenue flood this week, with the release of an incident report from the chief administrative officer on Friday (Dec. 21).
The report identified several problems associated with the cause of the incident and makes several recommendations for changes in policies and procedures.
“We know that there were things we could have done better,” Mayor Nils Jensen said in a press release. “What’s important now is that we address the harm that was caused and make sure that we learn from our mistakes and make sure they’re never repeated.”
The water main broke when a public works crew followed a long-established practice of replacing a fire hydrant on a “live line”; a procedure in which the water is not shut off before the replacement is installed. The bracing of the live valve failed, releasing a significant flow of water from the 18-inch water main.
“Our report addresses this practice,” Municipal Administrator Mark Brennan said. “In future we will require a shut-down of the line before any such work is undertaken.”
The report also says that the situation was aggravated by out-of-date shut off valves in the area that closed with a left turn instead of the standard right turn closure. “We have only ever encountered a handful of these among the approximately 1,600 valves on the system, and the left turn valves at Bowker were not marked or previously recorded,” Brennan said.
The report reveals that the first four valves were turned within 45 minutes, however two of the valves used left turn closures and were initially in the closed position. Workers unknowingly opened them, releasing more water.
The report recommends a complete inventory of the system, so crews know the location of any system anomalies before work is undertaken and says there will be a “major effort to fast track the overall integrity and accuracy of our corporate Geographic Information System (GIS)-water network.” All public works staff will have accurate information as to location and operation of the water system.
Protocols for activating the Emergency Operating Centre (EOC), coordinated by the Deputy Fire Chief, are also reviewed in the report. The report indicates that by 10 a.m., “(I)t should have been obvious that the water flow was out of control and creating a property damage and potential safety issue. The Fie Department should have been contacted by this time.” Fire crews were contacted by a worried resident at 11:24 a.m.
“It took approximately two hours to get word to the Fire Department. We know that they should have been called much earlier,” Jensen said. “That kind of delay will never happen again.”
The report indicates, “the Fire Department is to be notified to assist with watermain breaks and flooding as soon as it is apparent that property damage has or is likely to occur and/or if there are personal or public safety issues.” It also recommends the police department be notified to attend the scene as well.
“We regret the damage that was done and the stress that has resulted from this situation,” Jensen said. “The report speaks to how we can do things better in the future and makes recommendations for mitigating the harm to the families whose homes were flooded.”
The report calls communication during the event “problematic.” It recommends the Emergency Preparedness Manual section dealing with communications be reviewed and amendments made, and that all staff must be made aware of communications issues covered by the manual.
The report should be considered by council at its first meeting in January.