A third-party review commissioned after post-tropical storm Fiona has advised the P.E.I. government to boost emergency resources, improve communication and find ways to increase co-ordination among response agencies and provincial departments before the next disaster hits.
Minister of Justice and Public Safety Bloyce Thompson tabled the review in the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly Friday.
The Fiona After-Action Review, which comes more than a year after the historic storm in September 2022, was conducted by Calian Group, the same consultant that conducted a similar review following post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019.
"Emergencies can come at any time, in any shape and sizes," Thompson said. "Since the onset of Fiona, our EMO [Emergency Measures Organization] and our entire government has been working at great lengths to make our Island more prepared."
'We've learned a lot from Fiona and our response time,' says Minister of Justice and Public Safety Bloyce Thompson. (Ken Linton/CBC)
When Fiona made landfall in the Atlantic Provinces on Sept. 24, 2022, it was one of the strongest storms in Canadian history. On Prince Edward Island, the fierce winds knocked down millions of trees and damaged homes, roads and businesses.
At the storm's peak, more than 82,000 Maritime Electric customers were without power — nearly the entire province.
During its review of the province's response, Calian conducted surveys and focus groups with 140 Island organizations and government departments, as well as collecting feedback from 300 households across the province.
Based on that feedback, the report outlined three areas that need to be improved: increasing emergency resources, improving communication and better co-ordination between response agencies and government departments.
Only 20% of public had confidence in province
One recommendation was to establish at least one primary incident command post to ensure different aid groups, government departments and organizations understand their responsibilities during an emergency situation.
The review also suggested creating a separate fuel depot for emergency responders to guarantee access and limit frustration from members of the public, and taking action to ensure accommodations and food resources will be there for first responders coming from off-Island to assist in prolonged events.
Countless trees were downed and almost all of the Island lost power when Fiona hit. (Laura Meader/CBC)
The report also says communication between government departments, aid agencies and the public was a challenge during Fiona and needs to be improved.
According to the report, only 20 per cent of the public surveyed felt confident in the province's ability to effectively respond and recover from the post-tropical storm.
Speaking with reporters outside the legislature, Thompson said his department has already taken steps to address some of the recommendations, specifically when it comes to adding more resources to avoid burnout among emergency response staff.
"We've learned a lot from Fiona," Thompson said. "We've doubled our team; we needed more resources. That event [dragged] out a long time, we burned out our resources, so we've doubled the size of that office."
Interim Liberal Leader Hall Perry says the Island was lucky during hurricane season this year, but the government can't rely on luck when it comes to emergency response. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )
Thompson said his department is still waiting to see a similar review report of Maritime Electric's response to the storm, which has now been given to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.
Opposition calls report 'big disappointment'
On Friday, interim Liberal leader Hal Perry was calling the report a "whitewash," saying it paints an overly rosy picture of the King government's response. He said it glossed over the length of power outages, the long line-ups and shortages of fuel, and the difficulty many Islanders had accessing provincial support funds distributed by the Red Cross.
One of the recommendations from the third-party review was that the province set up a designated refueling station for first responders and emergency agencies. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)
"How can you say that was an excellent response or that they had everything planned ahead of time? There's so many contradictions, so many questions," Perry said.
Perry said the report also lacked specific details about how emergency response should be improved or the impact Fiona had on the Island.
Green MLA Peter Bevan-Baker echoed these concerns, calling the report a "big disappointment" and saying a public inquiry should have been done. He thinks it's now too late for that kind of inquiry.
"There's no discussion in this report, from what I have seen and what I have been told, on the fiascos of such things as the distribution of funds through the Red Cross. There's no discussions in this report of the implications of the power outages that went on almost two weeks and left seniors in the cold and the dark in government facilities," Bevan-Baker said.
Green MLA Peter Bevan-Baker says he's disappointed with the lack of detail in the report, saying he doesn't think it serves Islanders well. (Ken Linton/CBC)
"It's really missing a lot of the critical elements that we would like to see and that would assure me that we're going to be in a safer position the next time this happens... It's too late, it's too little."
Bevan-Baker also said there were a number of recommendations in this report that seemed to mirror those made by the same consultant after Dorian in 2019. He questions why similar challenges were still a problem three years later when Fiona arrived.