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October 28, 2017 2:00 am

Dealing with Disaster

Monday, October 19, 2015 @ 3:52 AM

Prince George, B.C.-  Michael Higgins is no stranger to emergency planning,  he has more than  two decades of experience  in that field.   But when he started his new job as Emergency Services Co-Ordinator with the Regional District of Fraser Fort George in April,  his first call to action caught him a little off guard.

“When I got the call, I thought,  this is a test” says Higgins.   That call was about the  Little Bobtail Lake fire, and it  was unusual in that  such a major fire could  happen so early in the fire season.  “It was one of those things that was a little surprising because normally , at that time of the year ( early May)  it’s not  the type of fire  you see on the landscape at that time of the year.”

Being in charge of  Emergency Services for  rural areas poses its own set of challenges says Higgins “usually smaller pockets of smaller  populations that are usually farther away from urban centres and don’t always have the same amount  of capacity when it comes to local community resources  or things like  communication whether it’s high speed internet or  otherwise,  so those pose their individual challenges, plus people in their rural areas tend to be very independent”.  He says  they may only contact  the Regional District for assistance during an emergency only when they get to a point where they can no longer handle it themselves and that can makes things more complicated.

Higgins says it isn’t easy to convince people they should be prepared for any emergency “It’s one of those  circumstances where I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind  that it could  happen, but until it actually happens to a person, or it’s very close to  them,  they don’t really understand all the challenges that go along for being ready for such an event.”

He says one of the things  they talk about to people on a regular basis is having a “go pack” ready. “Knowing you can go to your  closet and pull out a bag that has things like your important paper work, your insurance documentation,  things like that, available to get out at a moments notice, because  sometimes, as was the case in this incident (Little BobTail Lake fire) there isn’t a lot of lead time.   The  recommendation for an evacuation alert went to an order in less than 30 minutes.”  That left little time  for those who were ordered to leave the area to get ready for their  departure. “It’s having that peace of mind that  you can grab that bag or that Tupperware container  that has those copies of things you’re going to need in the event you have to leave home.”

Higgins  has set a simple set of goals  to spread the word  throughout the Regional District  when it comes to being prepared:

  • make people aware of the specific hazards around them
  • have residents  accept their strengths and their  vulnerabilities to respond and recover from an emergency,  for example,  having the proper insurance for certain hazards
  • make sure people know what to do to  take self protective actions whether it be staying  in their existing  shelter,  or  evacuating the area
  • make sure people are ready to receive support or have support offered to them  “People have to understand they are not in it alone and there  are supports  and assistance available so they don’t feel overwhelmed.”

In the Regional District of Fraser Fort George, emergency services   are  expanding beyond  the annual flood threats and wildfire possibilities “We are seeing more heat  and extreme weather events, more intensity of wind, things along those lines” says Higgins, “So we have to be aware that our hazards  profile is kind of changing.”

“People need to  realize there are small things they can do along the way to make things better when bad things happen” says Higgins “One of the  keys is  community involvement,   we have to look at our communities as that source of strength  when  something  happens or is about to happen.  In our somewhat insular  society,  we’re not doing that  as much, and I think that’s something we have to   get back to. ”   He says it could be as simple as offering a generator to a neighbour whose power is out   “Knowing what people around you are facing is  also helpful.”


 Editor’s Note:

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