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Nanaimo school takes part in dam-failure drill

NANAIMO — A new network of sirens, set up to warn of imminent dam failure in the Harewood neighbourhood of Nanaimo, was tested in conjunction with an evacuation drill at John Barsby Community School.

NANAIMO — A new network of sirens, set up to warn of imminent dam failure in the Harewood neighbourhood of Nanaimo, was tested in conjunction with an evacuation drill at John Barsby Community School.

Emergency officials tested the sirens at full volume for three minutes, while 600 students and
50 staff members from the school poured out of the building and gathered on the corner of an adjacent playing field out of the flood zone.

The sirens and a series of other measures are intended to help prevent harm to residents if the dams become unstable due to extreme weather or an earthquake.

Karen Lindsay, emergency program manager for Nanaimo, said residents in the flood zone were contacted through the city’s emergency call alert system 10 minutes before to let them know the drill was happening, followed by a verbal warning over the siren system one minute before the drill.

The city is continuously monitoring water levels at the middle and lower Colliery dams, and is set up to warn residents if it looks as though the structures may fail and devastate the downstream neighbourhood.

The sirens were set up as part of a package of short-term risk mitigation measures approved by city council in response to discussions about the future of the Colliery dams located in south Nanaimo. The sirens were supposed to be tested in November, but parts were damaged during shipping.

School officials are also taking the threat of a possible dam failure seriously and have published a pamphlet on flood awareness for students and parents, vice-principal Rob Hoban said. “We’re downstream from a dam system,” he said. “So even if there
wasn’t any risk at all, theoretically, of the dams breaking, we would have a plan in place to deal with it.”

Engineers are gathering information on the structures as part of a technical committee’s work to produce construction options to rehabilitate the dams.