friends of dufferin grove park
Emergency Planning Research

An information site about the Blackout of 2003 and how community of Dufferin Grove was affected. We want to use this space to tell your stories and how you managed through the power outage. Perhaps, if we put these ideas together, we can discuss how to be better prepared in the face of such an emergency. This site is by no means comprehensive and will be constantly updated...Mayssan Shuja-Uddin. May 6th, 2005. To add your thoughts, email

posted april 19, 2005

Researching Blackout 2003


What was the City of Toronto's response to the Blackout power outage that affected Ontario in the summer of 2003? What were the things we worried about, what could we have done if the water ran out, etc... In order to ask and find answers to some of these questions, the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park have decided to put together this page.

What this Emergency Planning website is meant document

  • The experiences of residents in the Dufferin Grove Community. Specifically, on the elderly living in the buildings surrounding the park and on the community that uses the park on a regular basis
  • Blackout issues that the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park are concerned about (Q & A)
  • A comprehensive source of all the actions (or lack of) that the city took in response to the blackout
  • A list of questions about the above
  • A source of measures community members and others took to make the best of things during the blackout
  • To draw up a community emergency plan for the community of Dufferin Grove Park.
For a little background information

Media Coverage on the Blackout

This is a good place to start looking for information on the blackout. I will be posting the most relevant articles in the catergories that follow

  1. CBC online Blackout coverage.
  2. Toronto star Blackout coverage
  3. Harvard Electricity Policy Group.
    Harvard Data_Analysis
  4. The US Department of Energy's Office of Electric Transmission Distribution (OETD) has an information resource about the blackout .
    Blackout information resource
The importance of good information during times of crisis is critical. But, as the picture below shows, there is the danger of misinformation that might lead to panic and misdirected efforts.
Satellite photo of North America.

Comments: This bogus image began circulating via email within days of the northeast blackout of August 14, 2003. It doesn't stand up under scrutiny.

For example:

  1. There is no imaging satellite named "GeoStar."
  2. The timestamp shows "23:15 EST," but satellite images are usually marked "UT" (Universal Time) -- anyway, the U.S. is currently on Daylight Savings Time.
  3. The "blackout" portion of the image extends too far south and not far enough west.
  4. The "blackout" portion of the image is too dark -- on close examination, darker even than the pitch-black shade of the ocean and waterways -- as compared to the dark blue of the less-inhabited land areas visible elsewhere in the picture.
  5. Compare the faux image to actual satellite photographs of the event, which cover a much smaller area and are considerably less dramatic.
  6. The emailed photo is, in fact, a cropped, doctored version of a well-known composite image created from satellite photos taken between 1994 and 1995 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

About a month ago, I attended a lecture, part of The Shared Citizenship Public Lecture Series at the Munk Centre for International Studies. The lecture was entitled Public Security and Terrorism, and one of the issues that Dr. James Young (Special Advisor to the Deputy Minister, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Government of Canada) and Professor Homer Dixon talked about was the 2003 Blackout.

Mirror Sites

This website is doing something similar to ours. They're calling it the Blackout History Project and focusing on the events of Great Northeast Blackout of 1965 and the New York Blackout of 1977.

A few quotes:

"It is challenging to imagine the blackouts as anything but technological accidents--oversights of management and engineering quickly and inevitably corrected. Yet these failures were far from random. The blackouts revealed an intersection of long-term developments which have often been overlooked, underestimated, or studied as disconnected phenomena."

Canadian Emergency Management Agencies

On the Federal Level: Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) They have also put out a website called as an information resource on security and services provided. (PSEPC)

On the Provincial Level: Emergency Management Ontario (EMO)

On the Municipal Level Office of Emergency Management (OEM)/

The agencies working with the OEM

In addition to the ongoing working relationship with Toronto's emergency service response teams - Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Toronto Fire Services, and Toronto Police Service - the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) maintains close partnerships with the following groups to ensure the coordination of resources and appropriate response from agencies during an emergency in Toronto.

City of Toronto

  1. Toronto Public Health
  2. Emergency Social Services
  3. Corporate Communications
  4. Purchasing & Materials Management
  5. Police
  6. Fire
  7. EMS
  8. Toronto Water
  9. Transportation
  10. Solid Waste
  11. Technical Services (Survey and Mapping)

Other agencies

  1. ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services)
  2. Bell Canada
  3. CAER (Community Awareness Emergency Response)
  4. Enbridge Gas
  5. Enwave District Energy Limited
  6. Go Transit
  7. Insurance Bureau of Canada
  8. Ontario Hospital Association
  9. OVERT (Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team)
  10. St. John Ambulance
  11. Toronto Catholic District School Board
  12. Toronto District Health Council
  13. Toronto District School Board
  14. Toronto Hydro
  15. Toronto Port Authority
  16. Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)
  17. TTC

Government reports on Blackout 2003

  1. Canada-U.S. Power System Outage Task Force
    Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: Causes and Recommendations

Committee Meetings

  1. Meetings regarding recreation centres closing during blackout


    The Acting Chair: Next, from the city of Toronto, is Warren Leonard, manager, office of emergency management.

    Mr Warren Leonard: Thanks to all the members of the committee for this opportunity to address you this afternoon. My name is Warren Leonard. I'm the manager of the city of Toronto office of emergency management. That's under our technical services division in the works and emergency services department. I've been directly involved in full-time emergency management in the city of Toronto and the former Metro for over 16 years, since 1988.

    I'm going to address some of my comments to the municipal role in emergencies. I'll start with those. When an emergency takes place, response is undertaken by the local municipal emergency response organizations. This includes the traditional response groups of police, fire, EMS and public health, but it also includes social services, works, parks and rec, buildings and inspections and, even more, it includes those non-traditional response groups such as labour relations, human resources and finance.

    It's because municipalities deliver front-line services to the public on a daily basis that we're in the most practical and practised position to do so during an emergency. Policy or directives that come to us from the province or the federal level are implemented and operationalized at the local municipal level. This has been repeatedly demonstrated during SARS, the blackout and other events that have been mentioned this afternoon.

    Since response to an emergency begins at our level, it's imperative the local voice be heard at the provincial and federal levels, because our services operationalize those response plans. So we appreciate being here this afternoon.

    From a municipal perspective, we look to the provincial government to support municipalities in terms of training, equipment and other assets funding necessary to ensure that we are able to identify our risks, prepare our plans, and have sufficient properly trained personnel and the necessary equipment to protect the health, safety and welfare of our residents.

    The current provincial legislation, the Emergency Management Act that came into force in 2002, now mandates municipal risk assessment, emergency plans, critical infrastructure identification, training and public education. A community framework has been developed by the province to phase in a comprehensive emergency management program. However, the accompanying regulations have yet to be published. Our first deadline is December 31, 2004, and I'm already well into my 2005 budget process.

    There is also a marked difference in the nature of municipalities in Ontario, and a cookie-cutter approach will leave out the needs of somebody along that spectrum. Toronto, being in the sometimes unenviable position of being the largest municipality in the province -- we have 25 million residents, and if you come in from outside, like many of us do, estimates swell to over an additional million people per day. If things happen during that time, those people are our responsibility.

    things that tend to be attracted to large urban centres, and we have most of those risks right here in the city.

    We do have a comprehensive approach to emergency management, with an emergency management office -- that's my office. We're charged with developing, maintaining and coordinating the overall program for the municipality. There is an emergency management committee made up of executive members, some of whom you heard from this morning. Others will be appearing later on, I understand. We have an emergency operations centre, of course. We have mutual assistance agreements with all our surrounding regions, and we have two special initiatives here: HUSAR, which is a heavy urban search and rescue team that's one of five proposed across Canada, and we have a CBRN -- that's chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear -- one of three in Ontario.

    For our provincial linkages, on most of our emergency management issues we deal primarily with EMO, Emergency Management Ontario, but there's also direct contact between a number of our city divisions and provincial ministries. For example, Toronto Fire Services deals with the Ontario fire marshal on a number of things directly. Our emergency medical system and public health link with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care directly on issues.v


    Critical infrastructure is a new issue that we're looking at. As we're into this project now, upwards of 85% to 95% is the most bandied-about percentage of the critical infrastructure that's owned by the private sector. So while provincial legislation compels us at the local level to gather critical infrastructure information, there is nothing that compels the private sector to release it to us.

    The identification of critical infrastructure seems to be a project that's underway at all three levels of government. Some of the comments we've had from the people we've approached is that they've already spoken with the feds and with the province and now we, the municipality, are talking to them as well. A national approach to that and some standards in what kind of information we're looking for would be useful.

    The key issues -- and I'll wrap with this -- in emergency management now, as we see it, are:

    (1) Resources: the need for sustained funding levels -- there's a very limited surge capacity that exists in the municipalities -- identifying and sharing interjurisdictional operational resources and locating and accessing stockpiles;

    (2) Media and public communications: getting key messages through the media and assisting the public to cope with emergencies and recovery;

    (3) Perhaps most importantly, the various roles and coordination in this business: the vertical and horizontal linkages that exist among jurisdictions, the information flow along those lines, upwards and sideways, the decision-making process upwards and sideways, and the front-line operational voice in planning and strategy versus a top-down approach.

    In summary, the provincial act now mandates municipal risk assessment, emergency plans, training, public education. This is clearly the right direction to be going, but there's been no accompanying flow of money to assist municipalities in meeting those new legislative responsibilities.

    The Acting Chair: Thank you, Mr Leonard.

And now, for a closer look at the community of Dufferin Grove

Resident Experiences

During the blackout:

  • 44 hrs and 50 minuits of no electricity
  • elevators not working in apartment buildings
  • emergency lights not working in some stairwells
  • no running water above 10th floor
  • water level low in Toronto Reservoirs
  • no help to carry water up stairs (esp. for old people)
  • no information (City info-line not have much info to give) from eclectically powered devices ie. Tv/radio/web
  • gasoline hard to get
  • batteries run out in stores

After the blackout:

  • community centers closed
  • lights in sports fields closed
  • libraries closed
  • Nowhere to go except for mall or bars (not free)

Issues to Address

Issues the community needs to address during blackout:

  • No power (elevators not work)
  • No access to information (no tv - no radio)
  • No knowledge of who to call in the community for assistance
  • No knowledge of who to call to request supplies (batteries, food, water)
  • No planned access to assistance from the community (who to call for what)
  • No planned support from community (who will call you to check you are alright)

Issues the community needs to address after blackout:

  • Closing of free things ie. Community centers, sports fields, libraries

What the city did for us

What the community did and can do

How the Community can help itself:

  • - set up phone tress
  • - register block captains
  • - stockpile basic supplies at the park
  • - run discussion groups

Request to the readers

The main aim of this website is to gather together information relevant to the community during the Blackout two years ago. To gather your experiences when the power went out. What you feel you needed to 44 hours and 55 minuets of no power. We want to be able to put together a emergency response that is locally sensitive. We want our park and the community centre to live up to its purpose as a source of information and help. Most importantly, it is a place where the community can gather and support itself in times of crisis. In addition, information available online and through other sources is not always accurate, complete or readily available. For this reason, if anyone has more detailed information about any of the issues on this website, please pass them along. The same goes for anything that you feel should be addressed that is not already covered. This website will constantly be updated through out the course of the summer of 2005.

Mayssan Shuja-Uddin