SLRD to develop first emergency plan 

Filmon report on wildfires recommended all regional districts have a plan

By early 2006 the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District will have an emergency response program in place.

On Thursday, May 20 the province passed legislation requiring all 28 regional districts in B.C. to have an emergency program.

"Hopefully what we’ll have is… all the regional districts achieve a basic level, an essential level of an emergency program," said Brad Judson, planning manager with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, after a presentation at the monthly SLRD board meeting.

"And those that already have that essential level will move their program ahead to a more enhanced or comprehensive emergency program."

About half the regional districts in the province already have emergency management programs in place.

The SLRD is not one of them.

"The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District as a whole is one of the regional districts that doesn’t (have a plan) but is really interested, obviously, in taking charge of emergencies at a local level," said Judson.

"It’s really best that that happen. And where the province comes in is that we will support our regional districts any way that we can."

Three of the four member municipalities in the SLRD got hands-on experience and exposure in handling an emergency during last October’s floods.

Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton all activated their emergency response plans at that time as the floodwaters continued to rise over a period of days.

The SLRD staff were asked to augment the resources of the Village of Pemberton as they struggled to deal with the rising flood waters and the isolation from the south after the Rutherford Creek bridge was washed away, leaving a huge gap in Highway 99.

The province also helped out providing helicopter flights and arranging for milk and bread delivery.

"We all try to work together in what we call an integrated response and typically in a response the province never tries to take control or take charge and tell any local government what to do," said Judson.

"But what we do is we go in and we support them any way we can. Sometimes it’s with experience that we have in managing emergencies, other times it’s helping out providing sandbags and whatever is needed."

This integration, between member municipalities and with the province, will be worked into the new regional district plans.

Though creating a plan will be a significant undertaking, SLRD Administrator Paul Edgington said they are ready for the task.

"It’s a bit of a challenge but I think we’re up to it," he said.

Last week’s provincial legislation came in the wake of the comprehensive Filmon Report, which was a review of the firestorms in 2003.

One of the recommendations in that report was legislation to require regional districts to have emergency plans, just as municipalities are required to have plans.

"This Filmon recommendation is really to make sure that all of B.C. is covered by an emergency program so that the local government’s there will have the ability to respond to emergencies, prepare for them, take advantage of training and exercises and those sorts of things," said Judson.

The province has given $1 million to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to help the regional districts.

Each regional district will be able to access $25,000 this year to help develop plans. There could be more money provided the following year.

A further $300,000 has been given to the Justice Institute to help train volunteers and local government in the ways of emergency management.

Each regional district must complete its plans by January 2006. Some regions will be planning in advance of others.

Judson said the province has not done a review to decide which regions are at higher risk and who must develop their plans first.

Meanwhile Whistler will be kicking its emergency plan into high gear on Saturday, June 19 during a full-scale emergency planning exercise.

The Ministry of Forests will lead the exercise along with Whistler Fire Rescue Service, the RMOW, Emergency Social Services and the RCMP.

A number of community agencies like Tourism Whistler, the Whistler Health Care Centre and Whistler-Blackcomb have also been invited to attend and exercise their own emergency plans, as well as companies like Terasen Gas, B.C. Rail and B.C. Hydro.

Helicopters and air tankers will be used in the exercise and the public will be invited to check out new wildfire technology as well as learn how to protect their homes from wildfires.

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