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City reviews tornado response and recovery, identifies areas for improvement

'While the consensus is we managed the incident effectively, there are still areas we could further refine,' city says
In the days following the July 15 tornado in south-end Barrie, city police continued to restrict access to the most heavily affected areas.

What was done right and what could have been done better? 

Those were some of the questions asked and answered during a tornado debrief meeting held Wednesday with members of the City of Barrie's emergency control group, which is comprised of senior staff, as well as representatives from the Barrie Police Service and Barrie Fire, including the police chief and fire chief.

At the meeting, officials reviewed the response and recovery operations following the July 15 tornado near Mapleview Drive East and Prince William Way in the city's southeast end to identify things that went well and areas for improvement.

Emergency control group members, as well as others involved in the incident, were asked to provide feedback on areas where they performed well and areas where improvements could be made in the future during severe weather events. The city says the goal was to create a severe weather emergency plan for Barrie, which could incorporate some of those recommendations.

"One theme that was consistent with most of the feedback was how quickly the city responded," according to a news release issued by the city late Wednesday afternoon. "The emergency control group (was) able to meet and make decisions quickly due the infrastructure being in place for a virtual EOC (emergency operations centre). The activation of a virtual EOC for the COVID-19 response undoubtedly aided in the response to this (July 15) event.

"Another consistent theme was that emergency incident communications was effective. It was also identified that the use of the on-site trailer and St. Gabriel’s school was helpful for residents and site clean-up by the city’s operations department was efficient," the release stated. 

The total insured damage caused by a series of EF2 tornadoes on July 15, one of which devastated a southeast Barrie, was approximately $75 million, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Barrie’s tornado was the most severe that day, hitting a southeast neighbourhood at about 2:30 p.m., with speeds of up to 210 kilometres per hour, damaging dozens of structures. City officials issued dozens of unsafe orders for damaged homes and structures. 

In Barrie, 11 people were taken to the hospital with injuries  two of them were admitted, but were released that weekend.

The city says an event of this size and scope will always provide opportunities for improvement.

"An incident site this large creates a lot of site-control and communications challenges. While the consensus is we managed the incident effectively, there are still areas we could further refine. One of the outcomes is the development of a detailed severe weather plan specific to weather events that could happen in Barrie." 

City officials also noted the large outpouring of support from the community, which also came with its own challenges. 

"The city was almost immediately overwhelmed with donations and offers for volunteers. While this was much appreciated, it did become challenging at times to co-ordinate. The Salvation Army took over managing the needs of residents and acted as a point of contact to access the supports that were required."

The city says it may consider formalizing an agreement with the Salvation Army for large-scale emergencies.

Other improvements included better on-site co-ordination between responding agencies and enhanced internal communications.

Examination of drone imagery has determined that when the tornado made landfall in Barrie, it travelled a total length of 12.46 kilometres and was up to 510 metres wide.

It started just west of Highway 400 where the first damage was found and then closely followed the road right into the southwest neighbourhood roughly where Mapleview intersects with Prince William Way. It continued on, close to Lake Simcoe, taking a bit of a turn and clipping Sandycove Acres where it did more damage before it finally dissipated even though the parent storm remained active across Lake Simcoe where the other tornadoes then formed.