RCMP draft better plan for highway closures 

Quicker response, clearer lines of communication needed.

By Vivian Moreau

In response to public outcry after an eight-hour Feb. 11 Highway 99 closure following a fatal accident, local and Lower Mainland senior RCMP have recommended new communications procedures.

Stressing that investigations take time, the senior RCMP managers came to three conclusions that should reduce highway closure times. Recommendations included a quicker response from crime scene experts getting to accident scenes, a more comprehensive communication strategy and a unified Sea to Sky policing response.

“Right now Squamish is managed by a Squamish manager and Whistler by a Whistler-Pemberton manager and that isn’t always as fluid as it could be,” said Whistler’s Staff Sgt. Norm McPhail.”

Working protocols, simple things like who’s in charge, who needs to be contacted, and who speaks for whom, need to be clarified.

“In this incident… things that didn’t go well were ‘the highway is going to be open in two hours’ and then two hours would pass. It’s better to say ‘the highway will be closed for six hours’ and let people make plans.”

RCMP would also like to see more than one traffic analyst attend serious accident scenes. At the Feb. 11 accident the Lower Mainland coroner called to the scene had to manoeuvre through traffic, driving on the curb side of the Sea to Sky Highway, to get to the scene.

“The coroner doesn’t haven’t an emergency vehicle so getting the coroner to the scene to look at the evidence… was a challenge,” said McPhail.

Although there is air transport, McPhail said the question is where to land a helicopter on the Sea to Sky when traffic is at a standstill.

Other recommendations included a point of contact that would inform key players — Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and other agencies — to inform hoteliers who could then notify guests about road closures.

McPhail will present procedural change recommendations to Whistler council for discussion Monday, March 6.

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