Years ago, on the Delaware Nation in southwestern Ontario, there was a well-known character who would hop into his car and drive through the community, declaring what his neighbours needed to know over his own personal public-address system.
Not a perfect system for emergency communications – but like the town criers from centuries long past, he knew how to reach his audience.
“I so clearly remember hearing him making announcements over his loudspeaker,” says Sherry Huff, who grew up on the Delaware Nation. “If there was something that we all needed to hear about, he was the one to let us know. The only problem is that when he stopped doing it, no one else stepped up to take his place.”
Until a couple of years ago, when Huff stepped up to fill that void. Having returning to the Delaware Nation as its communications and consultation co-ordinator, after spending more than two decades with CBC Radio, Huff launched a community radio station – CKBK, or 104.3 The Buck – on the FM dial.
The station, which recently received Safe Community funding from Enbridge, has been a lifeline for providing emergency communications to the 550 or so residents of the First Nation – which was founded more than 200 years ago in a relatively remote location on the southern shores of the Thames River near Thamesville, Ont.
“We are just a small community, and although we have a health centre, we don’t have our own emergency services, so in an emergency, getting information to people very quickly becomes very important,” says Huff.
“When I was little, there was an ice storm one year that left us without power for seven days,” she adds. “We need to think about what we will do in situations like that.”
CKBK, a 50-watt community radio station, also broadcasts community events and traditional stories in both English and Lunaapeew, the native language of the Delaware people, but emergency communications remain an integral part of its programming when necessary.
Huff learned about Enbridge’s Safe Community program, which awards grants to support emergency response in rural communities near Enbridge’s North American operations, and the Delaware Nation recently qualified to receive just under $10,000 in funding.
“Thanks to this funding, we are able to purchase an emergency generator as well as a wind-up radio for every single household in the community,” says Huff.
Helping to keep communities safe, and investing in emergency preparedness, may look quite different from one location to the next, but what’s important is ensuring there are safeguards in place that make sense and can save lives.
“This is exactly the kind of project we love to help fund,” says Sonia Fazari, a senior Aboriginal Relations advisor based in Enbridge’s Eastern Region.
“It’s practical and the benefits are very clear. The ability to communicate quickly during an emergency is absolutely essential to keeping community members safe.”