This scene was familiar not just to ice storm victims, but to all Quebecers. At five every afternoon, the Québec Premier and the President and CEO of Hydro-Québec delivered an update on the situation. That was the policy of direct presence. The idea was to provide accurate information and keep the public posted at every stage of the reconstruction. It was at one of those press briefings, on January 16, that the reconstruction countdown began. The Québec government became responsible for overseeing the entire emergency response plan and maintaining the line of communication between the public and civil society organizations, Hydro-Québec and the Canadian Armed Forces. And that’s when a turtleneck with the Hydro-Québec logo became the symbol of the resolution of the crisis.
On January 10, the Organisation de la sécurité civile set Operation Ice Storm into motion. The operation was structured into fronts, or work units, each charged with a priority mission to assist disaster victims. Some 750 volunteers from government departments and agencies took care of administration, food, financial assistance, firewood, generators, accommodation and information.
Close to 9,000 soldiers were called in to help deice, pick up branches, dispose of broken parts of transmission and distribution lines, transport new components for rebuilding lines and ensuring safety. Thanks to their invaluable assistance, the Organisation de la sécurité civile, fire fighters, police and Hydro-Québec employees could concentrate on their own essential duties.
The media played a dual role in the ice storm. First of all, they provided information on the grid’s condition to blackout victims and the public at large. They also reported on events in the field and painted a picture of the situation, complementing those of other players. People in disaster areas especially appreciated radio coverage.
The main underpinning of the emergency response plan was indisputably the mutual support of Quebecers in all regions. Not only did they offer room and board to friends and relations—and even total strangers—they generously donated cords of firewood, generators, food and blankets. They ran shelters and comforted victims. Some companies, like Zellers and Walmart, provided blankets to the town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, which was in dire need of them. L’entrepôt RONA and Canadian Tire stayed open around the clock so that people could buy tools to clean up or rebuild. Many acts of kindness were noted, and everyday heroes made their mark in the field.