How cities are making sure they can keep critical civic services working through the pandemic - InfoNews

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How cities are making sure they can keep critical civic services working through the pandemic

Making sure water and wastewater treatment plants keep operating through the COVID-19 pandemic is critical to all cities. This waste water treatment plant is in West Kelowna.
Image Credit: Contributed/RDCO
March 18, 2020 - 7:00 PM

As preparations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus continues, a light is being shone on local essential services and the plans being put in place to ensure roads are maintained, the water is running, fires can be put out and sewer systems, among many other services can continue.

As we are learning, plans largely involve ensuring the people we rely on for these services are available when needed. 

Penticton has created an isolation plan for key areas of their operation so clean water will flow to homes and businesses.

Kamloops has a lot of long-term employees who can pitch in if key workers fall sick.

Kelowna has set up green and blue teams to minimize the risk of a complete department overseeing an essential service becoming ill. That city is planning based on the possibility of a worst case scenario that could see as many as 40 per cent of employees being off work.

“Part of our briefing to the community on Monday was that we are going to be focused on our essential services,” Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian told today, March 18. “At that time I mentioned water, sewer and storm sewer. Whether or not that includes traffic and whether or not that includes garbage pickup is up for debate. Certainly, we have the kind of redundancy that you expect should be enough.”

Unlike many municipalities, Kamloops does its own garbage collection rather than contracting it out so it’s up to the city to determine, for example, if the garbage will be picked up every two weeks instead of weekly if there’s a shortage of healthy drivers.

On the traffic side, as an example, if a traffic light goes out now, it’s a priority to get it fixed. If there are staff shortages in the future, the decision might mean leaving it as a flashing red light.

There are a lot of long-term employees in Kamloops, especially in the public works side of things, Christian said. Many have experience in a number of areas so there is a lot of cross training among the staff.

The Emergency Operations Centre in Kamloops has been opened with a team of key people in place to make decisions on these and any other issues as they arise.

The City of Penticton, as of today, has an “isolation plan in place to separate managers and key workers so that we increase our ability of being able to have at least one manager, key operator and crew to operate the water and waste water treatment plants,” the city said in an email.

It has a long list of what it deems to be essential services, including repairs to the water and wastewater systems, dam inspections and operations, bio-solid composting, cemetery services, fleet maintenance, electrical service, flood control, solid waste collection (garbage from Emergency Care Facilities, Police, Fire and Ambulance stations, Ambulatory locations and Care Homes), the email states.

Kelowna has already sent some staff to work from home and, in some areas, are creating green and blue teams. One team will be in the office for a week while the other works from home, to minimize the risk of contamination. Then, after a thorough cleaning of the workplace, they will switch.

Kelowna is looking at its experienced staff to make sure, for example, a worker is made familiar with a new pump in an area where he used to work a few years ago.

“There’s a ton of different things, not just one solution,” Lance Kayfish, the city’s risk manager said. “Not one solution fits every work environment so we’re increasing all those measures across the board.”

It too has a long list of what it considers critical (as opposed to essential) services but, Kayfish stressed, that doesn’t mean things like recreation centres (which have been closed) aren’t vital to the quality of life in the city.

He’s also looking at the longer term if the pandemic continues.

He pointed to fire departments within the region that have mutual aid agreements where they help each other out in emergencies. A similar system might be put in place to help if, for example, another water supplier needs help.

West Kelowna CAO Paul Gipps said he met with other regional CAO's this afternoon to talk about mutual support for each other, if needed.

His city has identified employees who can back up in essential services if needed and also have outside engineers who can help oversee operations.

“We do know, we will come through this as a community by sticking together and working together,” Kayfish said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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