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RDCK votes to continue community emergency planning

The project helps communities develop local preparedness contingencies
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The Regional District of Central Kootenay board office in Nelson. File photo

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

RDCK staff will continue to support communities that want to be better prepared should disaster strike.

The destruction of Lytton during the heat dome of 2021 flagged many citizens to how quickly disaster can come to their community – and the critical need to prepare for emergencies before their occur. And with recent events in Lahaina, Hawaii, as well as Yellowknife and Kelowna, it’s likely that need will grow.

The RDCK developed the Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness Program (NEPP), which provides “tools and information to assist residents in becoming more resilient, and thus reducing the effort and cost of response and recovery from emergencies,” a staff report notes.

“It is becoming growingly important to ensure the resilience of our communities to minimize disaster impact,” the report continues. “As part of a whole-of-society response to disasters, citizens have an obligation to participate in their own preparedness, increase their resilience, and thus reduce their dependency on all levels of government.”

The pilot project has been well received – more than a dozen communities in the RDCK have reached out to staff for help in developing local emergency preparedness plans. But it’s come to the point where it’s a bit of a drain on staff capacity. That had staff trying to figure out ways to help communities develop their own plans in case of emergency, as local residents know best who needs what support.

“We know that our communities have a long way to go to be prepared for even the current frequency and magnitude of emergencies, not considering the impacts due to climate change, which are threatening to accelerate how often we and our residents face larger and larger hazards,” the report said.

The motion before the board at its Aug. 17 meeting was to direct staff to “continue to promote emergency preparedness planning.”

Some directors, however, found it an oddly vague direction to give to staff. While directors supported the general notion, they wondered why the need to respond was being placed on the RDCK’s shoulders, when emergency response is a provincial responsibility.

Chief administrative officer Stuart Horn said in this case, to get the job done in a timely fashion and properly, the RDCK should respond to the request for help from its citizens.

“If you’ve got five or six people who want to lead this initiative, and they are waiting for the province to support them, I don’t think you’re going to get this done in a decade,” he said. “We are the people who get traction. We have [emergency program co-ordinator] Jon Jackson to sit with people in a hall and tell them what these plans look like … I truly believe we will get value for our communities.

“I’m the first one to say ‘stop the downloading, we can’t handle this,’ but when the push comes from below, from the community, we need to be there to support them.”

The staff report describes plans to hold how-to webinars and other events to help communities build their own response plans.

Research has shown that every dollar spent on emergency preparedness can save six dollars in the cost of responding or recovering from disaster.

The board passed the motion to support staff in continuing to promote emergency preparedness.