KAMLOOPS– A study of BC’s wildfire communications practices during the 2017-18 seasons by Thompson Rivers University (TRU) experts suggests revisiting existing approaches, due to climate change increasing the frequency, scale and duration of wildfires in the province. The research began in 2019-20 and concluded in June 2021, so it does not comment on the latest fire season.
The 89-page document, A life cycle based model to risk and crisis communication during wildfire events in British Columbia, was jointly funded by the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), Canada Wildfire and TRU. The study looks at existing risk communications and crisis communications models being used by wildfire organizations and offers six recommendations. BCWS and TRU are working closely together to address and find solutions for challenges experienced in emergency situations such as wildfires. This report marks one of the first steps of this emerging partnership.
“The BC Wildfire Service is committed to learning and continuous improvement,” said Ian Meier, executive director of the BC Wildfire Service. “Over the last three years, we’ve made significant investments in research and innovation. We are committed to fostering a learning culture within our organization and it is exciting to begin to see results and recommendations for the future.”
The report highlights communications opportunities before, during and after wildfire events and recommends a focus on this full cycle of a disaster. It also looks at the impact of emergency events across agency jurisdictions. In addition to the BC Wildfire Service, the research included consultations with Emergency Management BC, the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, Simpcw First Nation, the City of Kamloops and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
In brief, some of the report’s recommendations include:
That organizations make meaningful distinctions between risk and crisis communications, and that they put in place an approach that recognizes life cycle differences. The role of local and Indigenous knowledge needs to be recognized at all stages of a wildfire event, and a focus should be put on the safety and mental health of affected individuals and communities.
Building and maintaining trust between emergency management organizations and remote and First Nations communities must continue to be a priority.
Developing a program to increase the supply of satellite phones in remote and Indigenous communities, looking at the use of community alert systems and supporting amateur radio operators.
Lobbying for support to improve broadband services in remote and First Nations communities so that social media can be a more valuable tool. Also looking at cell phones to use SMS alerting.
Looking at communities that have demonstrated success in wildfire communications, such as the Simpcw First Nation, and drawing on examples from other parts of the world to use them for training and development within emergency management organizations.
The study was headed by principal investigator Dr. Michael Mehta, professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at TRU. Three TRU faculty members were co-investigators: Wendy Gardner (Natural Resource Sciences), Jon Heshka (Adventure Studies) and Wendy McKenzie (Nursing), along with graduate student research assistant Merieme Boutaib and undergraduate student research assistant Jasper Edge.
“We hope that this report provides useful information to emergency management organizations across B.C. and elsewhere to reduce the risk from wildfires and other disasters,” says Dr. Michael Mehta. “Risk and crisis communication must be done well, and in a manner that reflects a people-centered approach using local resources, Indigenous knowledge, and evolving best practices.”
To see the report go to: https://inside.tru.ca/releases/tru-study-offers-suggestions-to-improve-wildfire-communications/ and click on ‘Read the report’ at the bottom of the page.
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