Reference: Musée du Haut-Richelieu
Radio has always been viewed, and it’s even in our broadcasting laws, as the last means of communication. It is well known that, if a major disaster occurs in Canada, of whatever kind, if no one has electricity, most TVs don’t work and most computers don’t work after their batteries run out, radio will often be the means of communication and the last means of emergency communication in all regions. Therefore, all our radio stations, all our transmitters, are equipped to deal with emergency situations.
Obviously, for a radio station… Of course, the TV stations in Montreal continued broadcasting with a generator but, since people didn’t have electricity at home, even if TVA and CBC were on the air, they couldn’t watch them. In the case of radio, well, people could listen to it in their cars, or use a battery-operated radio. Therefore, radio was the main point of contact with people during the crisis. The Internet was still in its infancy, so radio played a crucial role.
It was a community service broadcast. So, it involved telling people that, today, according to Hydro-Québec, x number of people are without power, x number of people will get their power back and which sector they are focusing on today. Then, it was giving out cheques; in places like Saint-Jean, cheques were distributed at the local CEGEP. The government issued cheques to help people make it through the crisis. Then, it was places to get generators and food. So, it was really an emergency service to help the community get through the crisis. At the time, I was working at CKAC.
At the same time, in terms of a communications strategy, we had to deal with the fact that the ice storm victims, who were the people that we wanted to reach, did not have electricity. Therefore, radio played an extremely important role in disseminating information. In addition, by working extensively with television, we were also able to reach the families of victims, who could then pass on the information to them, or we could reach the victims themselves if they were staying with friends, in hotels, or in other places that had electricity. That is why our communications strategy basically involved supplying information live, in real time. Consequently, we relied mainly on radio and television to be able to reach victims quickly and we put a little less emphasis on the print media. The print media’s role was to provide explanations, to explain why this had happened, to go into a little more depth in the case of certain types of information. But, basically, when we wanted to notify people about when the grid would be up and running again or when electricity would be restored in a given area, clearly radio and TV were much more effective.