Planning for emergency situations a top priority for mayor

As the Mayor Sees It with District of Barriere Mayor Bill Humphreys

I have had my other political hat on at various times over the past weeks.  On Wednesday, July 16, I was informed by Sukh Gill, CAO for the Thompson Nicola Regional District that the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was recommending an evacuation order for the Murray Lake area. The fire in that area was threatening approximately 35 structures in the area and was growing in size very quickly.

The first step in the procedure is to declare a local State of Emergency for Area “N” (Beautiful Nicola Valley South) and then issue the required evacuation order. The RCMP was tasked with the evacuation and the security of the area. In the more rural and remote areas this can be a real challenge due to the network of back roads through the province.

On Thursday, July 17, Mr. Gill and I were informed that there was another fire in the Lytton area that was now out of control, and a tactical evacuation was already underway. We were both at a function in Kamloops close to the EOC so we attended to issue the required local State of Emergency, Evacuation and Alert orders this time for Area “I” Blue Sky Country). The fire was in the Botanie Creek Road area and approximately 50 homes were in the evacuation area.

On Friday, July 18, Mr. Gill, TNRD Emergency Services Supervisor Jason Tomlin, and myself travelled to Lytton to attend a community information meeting at 5 p.m. This meeting was called within 24 hours of the evacuation order to provide information to the residents that lived in the Botanie Creek and surrounding area. The RCMP provided us with a fact finding tour of the fire area. We needed to know firsthand what the situation involved. We then planned for future meetings to give further updates.

All of us that live in the North Thompson know the fears, worries and anger issues that come with being evacuated. One of the most valuable lessons learned from the horrible 2003 fire season was that information to the public is critical. I am not talking about coffee shop rumours. I am talking about proper information from those that have been on site, are knowledgeable of the situation, know how to properly assess the information and how to give it out to the public in a timely and meaningful manner.

As it states on the TNRD website:

The TNRD Emergency Program does not take the place of the Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC), nor does it address emergencies that are normally handled at the scene by the appropriate first responding agencies such as police, fire or ambulance. The TNRD program will provide the direction and coordination required to respond and recover from major emergencies or disasters in the rural (i.e. electoral) areas of the TNRD. To support the program, an emergency operations centre (EOC) will be established at the TNRD Civic Building at 465 Victoria Street in Kamloops. Technical assistance, direction and training will also be given to sub-regional emergency response teams in defined areas of the Regional District. The TNRD program is in place to assist incident commanders when emergencies exceed their response capabilities, training or available resources.

Each member municipality within the TNRD is responsible for providing for the safety of its residents. Here in Barriere we are not immune to the destruction created by a horrific forest fire or other disaster should one occur. We need to do what we can to protect our community. Preparations for a reliable water source during emergency situations and having on hand essential fire equipment are well within our means and should be acquired and provided for in a timely manner.

Safety of our residents and protection of essential infrastructure are a primary mandate and responsibility of local government.  The planning for emergency situations is complicated and the costs involved are not small. The allocation of resources and funding must be attended to as soon as possible.

The fact of the matter is that the situation in our surrounding forest lands no longer allows for the supposed cost savings of renting generators and borrowing fire equipment.

There are no cost savings big enough to pay for shattered lives and lost dreams.