Crying wolf

Whitehorse is prepared with emergency plan for almost any contingency, said the city's safety and emergency services specialist Blaine Rapp. And those plans are constantly updated, he said.

Whitehorse is prepared with emergency plan for almost any contingency, said the city’s safety and emergency services specialist Blaine Rapp.

And those plans are constantly updated, he said.

While there are protocols in place for evacuating areas of the city if need be, any such evacuation would be handled by emergency services.

“If there ever was a declaration of an emergency in the city of Whitehorse, it would be mayor and council that would do that,” said Rapp. “If there was immediate danger in the Riverdale area, we would use whatever means we could summon to get the word out as soon as possible”

That includes using the media to broadcast warnings and instructions, and or sending out the fire department and RCMP out door-to-door.

None of the plans they have in place call for deputizing civilians to help spread the word via their Twitter accounts.

Although, after the prolific way that rumours that the Whitehorse Rapids Dam was about to burst during last week’s power outage, Rapp joked that maybe it’s something they should consider.

“We’ll have to get their name and number and they can be our town crier,” he said, tongue in cheek. “They did a really good job.”

Rumours spread at a rapid pace last week.

Twitter and Facebook disseminated a lot of misinformation about the dam bursting and a potential evacuation of Riverdale.

Whitehorse hasn’t started to take advantage of social media yet, said Matthew Grant, the city’s public relations manager.

The city has a Twitter page and its website is set up to take advantage of social media, but they haven’t put it to use.

A policy is still being worked out for these new mediums, said Grant. “As a policy-based organization, we have to build a policy around it first, figure out what we want to do, how we’re going to do it and make sure everyone is aware of what the tool is and how it works,” he said. “It’s an amazing tool for many municipalities and governments.

“It’s a whole new way for us to communicate.”

City administration is meeting with council this month to discuss options for utilizing social media.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” said Grant.

While effective communication can help combat the spread of misinformation, it won’t stop some of the goofy things people do when disaster strikes.

Last week, when people were told the dam was about to burst, they ran towards the danger.

It’s not the first time.

Seeing people flock to the spectacle of disaster reminded Rapp of the 1991 Haeckel Hill forest fire.

“People were on the Alaska highway with lawn chairs watching the fire,” he said. “It makes you think, ‘Wow, that’s not what I would be doing.’”

It isn’t only a personal safety issue, it could endanger public safety.

“We want to ensure that emergency response vehicles can get to the scenes,” said Rapp.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com