The Regional District Board of Directors were given a brief account detailing the failure of one of the RDOS’ emergency communications relay towers that took place over the Christmas holiday.
Emergency Services Supervisor Dale Kronebusch told the directors that a storm on December 18 snapped two power poles suspending hydro lines bringing power to an emergency communications tower on Kobau Mountain. A backup generator kicked in to supply power for several days afterward, but it eventually ran out of gas and on December 29, emergency batteries also failed.
Kronebusch told the board that the system was back in service on January 3, only to fail shortly afterward for another day and a half. Replacement of the power poles is considered to be a safety issue and may have to wait until spring to be replaced. There is a slight possibility that Fortis could string an armoured cable to the tower, but in the meantime the site will be operated by generator.
Area “D” Director Tom Siddon asked staff about the reliability of using radio communications and mountaintop towers to relay emergency communications signals, asking if Telus dedicated ground lines might offer better value and more reliable service. Siddon, quoting from a series of emails he had received, noted that contractor Planetworks recent study on RDOS emergency communications recommended further mountaintop relays through the establishment of another site on Okanagan Mountain.
“Maybe this is not the best idea, in light of this incident,” Siddon said, “Using dedicated lines like Revelstoke did, at $18,000, may offer us better service. All options should be explored. We don’t want to repeat the same mistakes again.”
Board Chair Dan Ashton noted that many radio towers were in use in B.C. and delivered reliable service.
“This is an extraordinary year in terms of weather,” he said.
Staff defended Planetworks’ recommendation. Kronebusch describing the Okanagan site as one where the regional district would be attaching to an existing tower. The lack of access to the site was actually and advantage, he said, in helping to maintain security.
“The best system has proven to be old ham radios,” he said, “we’re going back to whats tried and true.”
“If a dedicated ground line will do the job at the right cost, why use a tower – when you can rent a line?” Siddon asked.
“Planetworks was a third party study that identified a liability, and that was the land line,” answered Mark Woods, Community Services Manager for the RDOS, “ mountaintop radio frequencies are more reliable.”
“I’m just saying, consider the possibilities,” said Siddon.
Penticton Director Andrew Jakubeit asked staff why no alarms went off when the various systems failed.
“Someone should have known,” he said of the electrical, generator and battery failures, to which Kronebusch replied that alarms and extra back up batteries would be added to the site.
West Bench Director Michael Brydon added, “We’re reliant on radio communcation – it has its place but what are the costs of a dedicated land line – maybe its prohibitive, but I would like to know.”
Oliver Director Ron Hovanes agreed, noting that the backup system – relying on phones and cell phones – was not enough.