The five-day water main breakage that happened in January in Bracebridge was handled in a “competent and professional manner,” according to Michael Murray of Murray Advisory Services.

He joined the District of Muskoka’s Engineering and Public Works Committee on April 21st to go over his report. He started off by saying there are “many positive aspects” of how the Town of Bracebridge and District staff responded to the water main breakage.

“Great effort was made to communicate the boil water advisory broadly and quickly,” he said in his report. “As well, there was significant effort to ensure that vulnerable people and groups were notified and assisted appropriately.”

However, Murray said it “took some time” to reach all the affected users because the District didn’t have a system in place to do that. The notice about the boil water advisory was relayed quickly to the town but pointed out that people he interviewed called the process to get news releases out “challenging.”

While the District recently announced the creation of the #AlertMuskoka app, he suggested looking into using the Alert Ready app that’s used by the provincial government to push out Amber Alerts. Murray said it’s vital that there is an established way to get important information to the public as quickly as possible. Murray also said getting a better system in place to notify District and town staff of emergencies would be beneficial. 

The overall message from his recommendations was that there is room for improvement when it comes to communication, both internally and externally. Murray detailed how the response was handled step-by-step in his report. While the issue with the water main was noticed around 11:30 AM on Sunday, January 9th and work was quickly done to minimize the damage, it wasn’t until 3:45 AM that senior staff with the District and Bracebridge were notified by email. “The staff involved in the initial response should have notified the District (emergency management control group) and senior management by phone rather than by email,” Murray said. 

He recommended that the District’s Emergency Plan be revised and made more clear about what role the Emergency Control Group plays in certain situations and layout who is contacted and when during significant emergencies. Murray also suggested creating “working groups” for various situations. 

Murray was reported that there was confusion about the timing and criteria for the advisory to be lifted. With multiple agencies involved in the situation – and factoring in how complicated the work was – it needs to be clearly laid out who does what and when. “In this case, there could have been more coordination between the agencies, and better communication about the criteria for lifting the (boil water advisory) – especially early in the incident response,” he explained. “This would likely have prevented some of the later confusion.”

The review process was started by Murray in February and involved interviewing 19 people that played a role in responding to the boil water advisory.