The wildfires in northern B.C. and Alberta are reminders that emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere.
That means personal preparedness can go a long way in helping each person, household, and neighbourhood manage an emergency and later, the recovery.
The advice comes from Dan Derby, a man who fills two key regional roles - deputy fire chief and emergency program coordinator for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB).
Derby is a driving force behind an RDKB public awareness campaign that provides PreparedBC practical guidelines for emergency preparedness and planning for all households, should the unthinkable happen.
The material encourages people to talk with their family members and neighbours, then take a moment to write down shared information in a PrepareBC booklet, so everyone is clear what to do in the case of emergency.
“We have a shared responsibility to be prepared for an emergency or disaster such as a wildfire event,” Derby added. “We’ve been working with Emergency Management BC over the winter on materials in both the printed capacity and online to raise awareness.”
PreparedBC guides are available at the regional district office in the Trail Gulch at municipal offices, or on the RDKB website (rdkb.com) under the “Hot Topics” link.
The books include pages to jot down basics like family contacts and pet information as well as lines to record escape routes and mustering sites, especially during times when parents are at work and kids at school.
“Personal preparedness is hard to promote, people either want to do it or they don’t do anything,” said Derby. “But what we can do is raise awareness and make the materials available.”
Along with the PreparedBC campaign and a “FireSmart or FireDumb” shortlist of do’s and don’t for protecting homes, Derby is slated to meet with elected officials in June for a session about their roles and responsibilities during an emergency activation.
It’s been nine months since wildfire ravaged the Rock Creek area and gave the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) staff a real-life test. But the event and its aftermath are still fresh to so many, maybe more so in light of the country’s current wildfire activity.
“They started evacuating Fort Mac on a Tuesday night,” Derby recalled. “And on Wednesday morning we were having our regularly scheduled EOC staff team meeting,” he said. “Fort Mac is a totally different scale but really the end result is that people lost their homes, so it is similar to Rock Creek, just a different scale,” he added. “And we are working as team to train together, meet, and support our communities. It’s an ongoing effort.”
Though the EOC ran like clockwork and demonstrated tight emergency services, Derby says there are always takeaway lessons.
“We can always do more around communications,” he said. “And there are many recommendations, but they fit into three key subgroups that form a big part of my work plan this year.”
After working 12 to 16 hours days in the EOC last August, Derby says part of the regional meeting next month will encompass training for all elected leaders, in particular rural directors.
“Our elected officials especially in electoral areas are very involved with their communities,” Derby said. “So we are trying to set up an understanding of what their role is during an emergency, and what involvement and support we need from them.”
Other actions include practical improvements to the EOC site (located in Selkirk College’s Trail campus) and regular meetings with agency partners throughout the Kootenay Boundary to build capacity and relationships.
Although forecasting the wildfire season is like looking into a crystal ball, Derby noted the lack of rain in the region this year.
“The rain we get in May and June sets up our fire activity in the southeast,” he said. “So if we get good rain and things green up that’s good - if we don’t and it dries up early, that will hurt us later on.”