The CVRD’s emergency preparedness guru, Sybille Sanderson, urged Lake Cowichan town councillors Oct. 8 to update their own education and plans so they’ll be ready to help others.
Last December’s huge windstorm and multi-day power outage opened many eyes about disaster readiness in the Valley, particularly the Cowichan Lake area, as both access roads were closed.
“We might have another event where we are dealing with lengthy power outages and last year was an excellent learning curve for people in terms of realizing: oh, maybe I’m not as ready as I should be.
“When we had that windstorm and heavy power outage it just really came home to everybody that emergency management is only as successful with everybody doing their part.
“To expect, for example, that here in Lake Cowichan council and staff are going to run around taking care of everyone is just not realistic. Part of that is making sure the message we’re giving the public and the expectations we are setting are realistic.”
Last year’s windstorm was more of an inconvenience, she said, but it did show the importance of neighbours checking in on neighbours.
“In some neighbourhoods people did that but in other neighbourhoods people just sat behind their closed doors, which is unfortunate because at the end of the day the simple thing that we try to promote is getting everybody to check on the neighbour across and on either side. If everyone did that, everyone would get checked on. That’s a foundation and the more of that we can get done the less work there is for staff, the less emergencies arise. It’s an important piece.”
She also encouraged everyone to take a look at the emergency preparedness challenge in the booklet.
“It’s really important for us to take the lead on that, for us to be prepared because we can then reach out and maybe look to someone who doesn’t have that in place.”
Implementing emergency management means more than following the town’s plan.
“Here in the [CVRD] region we’ve trained all the staff at the rec centres to help out if there’s an evacuation type of event. Last year we had planned to open up the Cowichan Lake Recreation Centre as a warming centre but found out unfortunately that the generator wasn’t working. Those things happen! But the school stepped up, and they coordinated with us to do that.
“One of the things that came out was that that really wasn’t enough. That’s when we had to clarify: when is it local governments that have to provide the services and when is it the community?
“There was a group formed here [in Lake Cowichan] and another group formed in Youbou and a group in Chemainus. The whole goal was to promote personal preparedness and also that networking, identifying where there might be some needs and then dealing with them. People helping people rather than expecting us as local governments to magically wave our magic wands and make something happen.
“It’s now time to ramp it up a level and ensure that those who need to know what to do in an emergency actually can do their jobs.
“That’s just something I’d like to encourage for the town here: get a little more comfort level among the staff.”
According to Sanderson, town council has to recognize that they have an official role to play in an emergency, too.
“If we have to evacuate people we have to have a declaration of a state of local emergency. That has to be signed by the mayor or his or her designate. It’s really important for you to be involved in those processes so you’re comfortable with what’s going on. Declarations have to be signed by the mayor, any evacuation orders have to be signed by the mayor.”
McGonigle said a speaker from Williams Lake, talking at the recently concluded UBCM, had said one of the most difficult decisions he’s had to make in his political career was to have to sign an evacuation notice for people to leave their homes.
“He said afterwards he walked out and stood in the street and there was no one…To sit there and take it all in was very difficult.”
Later, the councillor said that during last winter’s storm, people were moving generators from block to block, trying to determine the needs of the community; it showed that problems could last more than just a day or two.
“I think it’s important to look beyond 72 hours,” he said. “You could be on your own for up to seven days. Let’s focus on that.”