Cortes Island, August 29, 2017 – In Cortes Community Radio CKTZ’s memorandum of understanding with Strathcona Regional District, the station states its willingness to provide temporary usage of the station during emergencies.
In light of the wildfire situation in British Columbia’s interior, it seemed like a good time for an update on our area’s emergency preparedness. So I asked Shaun Koopman, the district’s Protective Services Coordinator, “Is Strathcona Regional District prepared for a major emergency?”
(The podcast above is an enlarged version of the program broadcast on Cortes Community Radio, (CKTZ, 89.5FM) on Wednesday July 19, 2017. This broadcast also included a segment called Whale Tales)
Is Strathcona Regional District Prepared For A Major Emergency?
Our conversation began with an update on the province’s wildfire situation. The number of displaced persons in the interior has more than doubled since we met. Though the situation is not as critical on the coast, we are heading into fire season.
“What is happening in the interior could easily happen here, especially as we roll into the summer and things get hotter,” said Koopman.
“They talk you through the community; the fire history; the vegetation; where the highest fire hazards are compared to population density and vegetations types that are there … It is a comprehensive 100 page plan with recommendations and everything you could want to know about community wildfires …. ”
Many rural communities do not possess the resources to fight a major wildfire. Despite the impressive responses by local firefighters and an elite provincial unit, the appropriate response during a recent drill on Cortes Island was to evacuate the civilian population.
Canada’s Most Costly Disasters: Floods
Though the current focus is wildfires, the nation’s most costly disasters come from another source.
“Flooding causes the most damage from disasters, and evacuations, in Canada. It is our highest risk and it is one like wildfires that will become exasperated by climate change. As sea levels rise, the king tides increase,” said Koopman.
Though this is not as much of a threat on Cortes Island, flooding can be a serious problem on the Salmon and Oyster Rivers and, last November, the Campbell River came dangerously close to overtopping its banks.
“We want to try and understand how is climate change going to influence this and also communicating that to the public.”
The Actions We Take as Households
Returning to the problem of wildfires, Koopman emphasized, “The actions we take as households will determine the losses.”
There is a FireSmart Manual, which tells homeowners how to mitigate their risk, and a firesmart checklist.
Over 80% of the homes that burned during the Fort McMurray wildfire failed the firesmart checklist; Over 75% of the homes that were saved had a low firesmart rating. (Firesmart is like golf: you want a low rating, not a high one.)
Do you have the wood for your wood stove right against your home?
Is it stored 5 to 10 feet from your home, if not more?
Is roof metal? Or wood shingles?
Do you store propane of gasoline against your house?
“I’m not saying that [abiding by the firemart guide] will protect your home 100%, or that Fort McMurray would not happened had the firesmart principles been abided by, but I think it is safe to say the impacts would have been a lot less.”
A SRD survey of 1,000 houses revealed that:
Only 5% of the households in Campbell River evaluated their homes using the firesmart checklist
in Sayward, the number is 33%
Cortes Island – 27%
Quadra Island – 30%
Gold River – 5%
Grab & Go?; Or Grab & Stay?
Everyone should a special kit prepared in case they are given 10 minutes to evacuate their homes.
“For a wildfire, or a hazmat spill, your evacuating. Your going somewhere and for the most part it will be someplace that has basic amenities. So do you need 100 water bottles in your grab and go bag? No, you’ll be going somewhere that has that,” said Koopman.
“What do you need right now, if you may never be able to return to your home again?”
A usb stick with your family photos? Copies of your insurance and ID. are very important. Do you have special medication? Or if you have a baby, diapers and a bottle.
“I always change my grab and go bag throughout the year. For winter, I have it stuffed with a parka, tooks etc. I take that out in the summer,” said Koopman.
If an earthquake hits, there won’t be anywhere to evacuate to. People will be staying in their neighbourhoods.
“In my grab and stay kit I have a tent and a sleeping bag in case I cannot sleep in my house. I have 50 litres of water …”
Some things are applicable to both grab and go and grab and stay bags, like a solar powered charger.
(There is much more information in the podcast above, or available through the links below.)
In light of the wildfire situation in the interior of our province, it seemed like a good time for an update on the Strathcona Regional District’s emergency preparedness. Only there were three humpback whales along the route, as I crossed over to Quadra Island to meet with the district’s Protective Services Coordinator. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen whales along this route, but they were still whales in the area when I returned four hours later. So I asked I asked Jessica Towers, who works on this ferry, if she had any whale tales.
Cortes Island Volunteer Fire Captain Eli McKenty received the page at 8 a.m. There was a fire at the Recycling Center on Squirrel Cove Road. As the island’s fire chief was not available, McKenty was in charge. He had, as yet, little indication of what lay ahead. Never-the-less, while he was waiting for his crew to assemble, McKenty received word that one of the recycling centre’s staff called. The flammable shed storage is burning and there is sounds of explosions. The staff member called 911 and was fighting the fire. McKenty alerted the ambulance and, as a precaution alerted an elite provincial fire fighting unit that it might be needed. Arriving on the scene some 40 minutes later, he discovered the fire had already spread to the trees. If this were an actual event, tomorrow’s newspaper headlines would probably say something like “Cortes Island Fire Leads To Mass Evacuation“. In reality, this table talk was one of the components of Cortes Island’s Emergency Preparedness and & Awareness Weekend. The talk also mentioned the great importance of businesses conducting a reverse address lookup on customers they are dealing with within Cortes, especially when fire hazards are involved.