And if an ice storm were to occur again?

Photo: Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir
Since the ice storm, Hydro-Quebec has revamped its network so as to avoid cascading falls of the towers.

20 years ago, Québec was facing one of the biggest natural disasters of its history. Between 4 and 10 January 1998, the ice storm has left up to 100 millimetres of freezing rain on its way, plunging into the dark more than a million customers of Hydro-Québec, in the worst of the crisis. Second text of a series to read until Saturday.

Towers that fall like dominoes, the largest city in Quebec which is close to the shortages of drinking water, and municipalities powerless in a centralized system : the experience of 1998 has highlighted a number of weak points which are now corrected, provide the current leaders, while warning that it is impossible to foresee everything.


In its report published in 1999 on the ice storm, the president of the commission, which today bears his name, Roger Nicolet, has prompted Hydro-Québec to secure the electricity supply in the strengthening of its network. And the Crown corporation says it did its homework.


The network of high voltage lines is more robust than it was twenty years and various means have been deployed to reduce the time of power restoration in the event of a major breakdown, ” says the engineer Marie-Eve Grenier.


“We want to limit the damage,” she said. You can’t completely avoid them, because it is a question of compromise in the reliability-cost. “


Hydro-Quebec now installs a pylon anti-fall cascading all ten towers, to an infrastructure that collapses does not cause the other in his fall, as in 1998. On the distribution network, visible in the streets of the municipalities, it ensures that in the event of accumulation of ice, the wire falls, but not the post.


And especially, ” says dr. Grenier, the architecture of the network is no longer the same. It is now configured in ” loops “, so that a sector is no more dependent of a single line for its electricity supply.


“A particular area will be served by two lines. So if one falls, the other takes over “, she summarizes.


Improve the coordination


On the plan of management, a committee of experts appointed by Hydro-Québec in 1998, has concluded that the company had to improve the coordination of all its activities, ” from production to the customer “. The current head of public affairs and media at Hydro-Québec, Serge Abergel, maintains that the links between the different teams are strengthened and the contingency plan is designed to bring together all of the activities of the company, which was not the case twenty years ago.


“I find even today that there are improvements to be made. It is necessary to look at it with a certain humility, ” says Abergel. We are more efficient in this information sharing that we’ve never been, but I think we can always improve the integration. “


If events comparable to those of 1998 occurred in 2018, the communication would also be very different, says the spokesperson. Hydro-Quebec would be able for example to deliver content and updates continuously directly on social networks.


To avoid the shortage of water


Twenty years ago, the ice has not only been a fall of the towers and knocked out power to millions of Quebecers. In Montreal, a power outage has paralyzed the two most important filtration plants of the city, Atwater and Des Baillets plants, which has raised the threat of a shortage of drinking water.


“It was powered by Hydro-Québec and it still is,” says the director of the water Service of the City of Montreal, Chantal Morissette. But today, she says, there is a plan B.


In 2003, the City signed an agreement with the company Rolls-Royce to ensure the electricity supply to its two main water filtration plants in case of emergency between 1 December and 31 march. This agreement, now honored by the company Siemens, provides that Montréal receives the 35 megawatts needed to operate Atwater, Des Baillets plants and the tank McTavish within a maximum period of 14 hours.


As the network of transport of Hydro-Québec, the water system of the City is also “looped” to diversify the sources of supply.


“All the necessary changes have been made to ensure the protection of facilities and supply of drinking water, slice Ms. Morissette.


To respond to a crisis


The second major recommendation made by the commission in 1999 Nicolet was the adoption of a québec policy on civil security “, leading to the emergence of a genuine system of civil security “. Two years later, the civil protection Act came into force.


“It was far from the level of preparation and the structure of civil security that we currently have in Quebec,” says Eric Houde, director of operations, the Directorate general of civil security and fire safety in Quebec.


The one who took the head of the montreal office of the civil security in February 1998, admits that at the time, the crisis management proved to be “complex” and that many municipalities have been caught off-guard. If a storm similar down today on Quebec, the citizens and the municipalities would be alerted and resources would be deployed in advance on the ground, ” he said.


The towns involved


The kerfuffle of highway 13, which occurred last march, has highlighted communication problems within the government, but Mr. Houde noted that his team is able to manage around 300 events per year.


“We have a structure of civil security that is modern and effective, he insists. This is no longer a small team of fifty people who carries it on his shoulders. “


“The cities are better equipped, but there is still work to do. […] This is not all of the municipalities in Quebec which has a plan of emergency measures, even in the black triangle [the ice storm]. “


In Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, one of three cities in the Montérégie region, which has delimited the ” black triangle “, the mayor, Alain Laplante, elected last November, estimates that the city ” has learned a lot from his past experiences “.


The protocol for the intervention of the municipality was reviewed in the wake of the ice storm and again after the floods of 2011. “The goal is not to be caught unprepared “, he says.