How the federal government fell down during the earthquake

Remember the earthquake in the Ottawa area last June? Remember how the earthquakes website run by Natural Resources Canada promptly imploded when everyone tried to get information on the quake at once? I mentioned that I sent a stiff letter to the Minister of Natural Resources to complain about it. I did get a reply dated July 28 from the assistant deputy minister responsible, who assured me that steps were being taken to address the issue, which is precisely the sort of answer I expected (being, as you know, familiar with the ways of ministerial correspondence).

I was far from the only one to notice the website issue: a Canadian Press story in August, using documents obtained under an ATIP request, outlined what the hell happened to the server. But according to Tom Spears’s article in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen, the problems went beyond insufficient website bandwidth. Not only were the website and phone lines down, but the chain of command effectively prevented anyone with any expertise from talking for hours. The comedy of errors surrounding a conference call should be all too familiar to anyone who works with words for the federal government.

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Magnitude 5.0

USGS Shakemap

At 1:42 PM today, a magnitude-5.0 earthquake hit about 60 kilometres north of Ottawa. That’s not very far away, and earthquakes in this part of the world can be felt a lot further away because of the geography.

I’m not familiar with earthquakes. I first thought that a large truck had crashed into our building; Jennifer, for her part, thought that something was wrong with the boiler at her school. It was only when references to earthquakes from Ottawa residents started appearing in my Twitter feed that I clued in to what was going on. Then I jumped on Twitter and started reporting myself — yes, I totally became an xkcd comic.

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Blanding’s Turtle habitat threatened in Kanata

A road project in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata may threaten a population of Blanding’s Turtles in the area, the Ottawa Citizen reports; herpetologists are using frankly apocalyptic language to describe the impact of the Terry Fox Drive extension on the local turtles. There’s a rush on to get the extension built before March 2011 to qualify for federal stimulus funding. On the other hand, the turtles, which are listed as a threatened species, should come under the protection of the provincial Endangered Species Act, under which destroying habitat is a distinct no-no.

Here’s a map of the Terry Fox Drive extension:

The area inside the road’s arc will be developed; outside the arc, the land will be left in its natural state.

Blanding's Turtle at Mud Lake Ottawa is a surprisingly good place for turtles, which are still found in awfully built-up areas of the city (see, for example, Michelle Tribe’s photo of a Blanding’s Turtle at Mud Lake, right). They also get quite a bit of positive press, thanks in no small part to a local turtle rescue that pioneered the use of turtle crossing signs. Hopefully, road mortality won’t wipe them out — which is precisely the worry about the Terry Fox Drive extension.

Update, Nov. 25 at 6:05 PM:

Yesterday’s Citizen suggests that the project is going to go ahead anyway, with much mitigation work promised.

The $47.7-million Terry Fox Drive extension should go ahead next spring, despite concerns raised over the threatened Blanding’s turtle, said Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, whose ward includes the proposed project. …
“The road is already needed. The road is going to come anyways. Is waiting two years going to make a difference? I suspect not,” Wilkinson said. “If they do that, that will cost the city $46 million because we will not get the federal and provincial money. We lose the funding, we still get the road.”

So apparently it’s a fait accompli, even before construction begins — and this in a city that takes decades to build anything. (How come interprovincial bridges and light rail don’t work this quickly?)

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