Preparing for Disaster

Preparing for Disaster

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PREPARING FOR DISASTER – AN OVERVIEW for Saturna Island Property Owners

From John McMillan

History and Structure

In 1990’s the Provincial Government passed on the responsibility for planning for disasters to cities and towns in the Province, or as in Saturna Island’s case to the Capital Regional District (CRD). The CRD hired a Protective Services Officer (Travis Whiting based out of CRD Offices) and formed a committee of representatives from six Southern Gulf Islands (two from each Island, currently David Rees-Thomas and Melanie Gaines for Saturna) to oversee local disaster planning in the Southern Gulf Islands (SGI). The Committee, in turn, has hired an overall coordinator for the SGI (Ian Elliott, Pender Island) and an Emergency Social Services Coordinator (Moira McCullough, Mayne Island) and has appointed volunteer island coordinators for each island. Each island coordinator in turn formed a committee with representatives from the emergency services, fire, ambulance and other volunteers. Each island Emergency Preparation Committee consists of two parts; the first is the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the second is Emergency Social Services (ESS).

Emergency Preparedness Function

A few words about overall emergency preparation and the tasks that are required to ensure we are prepared as a society and as individuals. The first is to assess the risks that exist for Saturna Island, for instance, earthquake, severe weather, oil spills, wildfire, etc. The second is to mitigate those risks, that is to take the steps one can to lessen the likelihood that calamities will occur or to minimize their effect. For instance, in Saturna’s case, to limit the activities that may cause a wild fire or to take actions that actively prevent fires, e.g. for individual homeowners to take steps to reduce the chance of a wildfire burning their homes by removing highly flammable material close to their house. The third is to plan for a response to the disaster, that is to have communications set up as well as possible, to have neighbourhoods organized and a refuge and evacuation points designated. The third is to plan for recovery, that is to rebuild medical facilities (Pender has the major part of a field hospital), recover utilities, inspect buildings, etc. The fourth is to ensure preparedness in terms of governments, organizations and individuals. This means governments will ensure that facilities are open and working as soon as possible, that organizations have recovery plans, i.e. generators to allow them to function at some level and that individuals and families ensure they can survive on their own for a minimum of at least three days and preferably for seven days.

EOC and ESS Function

The EOC is located in the Fire Hall and is usually activated at the request of the head of an emergency organization such at the Fire Chief through a paging system. Its primary purpose is to provide aid to the onsite emergency organization in the form of logistics, keeping track of financial requirements, providing a planning component, dealing with the press and ensuring those involved in the operational part of the emergency receive the resources they require. Also the EOC acts as a conduit between the operations chief and the political entities that make policy choices and determine the overall disbursement of resources (remember Saturna may be competing with other areas of the Gulf Islands or even the Province for resources).

The ESS function is to provide a refuge (Recreation Center) for those involved as victims in the disaster and for those who are working to normalize the situation. Among other tasks ESS organizes neighbourhoods, provides a safe place for victims to reside, provides food, acts as an information center for victims and those who wish to contact them, child care and care for pets. It is a very daunting task.

Individual and Family Preparedness

Without a doubt the most important aspect of emergency preparedness for individuals and families is ensuring that you are able to survive the first few days after a catastrophe. Remember earthquakes do not happen on a warm summer afternoon, they occur at night in the middle of the coldest part of winter in a storm. You will need to navigate in the dark on shaky ground worrying about whether the trees on your property will fall on you or your vehicle. A forest fire in the middle of a dry summer going before a stiff wind can travel faster than you can run. You will be in a panic. Do not count on the Government, they will not be there, do not count on your neighbours as they will have their own problems and you will take second place to them. Also, the time your neighbours take to help you reduces their chance for survival. You must know the steps you will take and have the items you will need prepared ahead of time.

Be prepared. Have copies of insurance and medical information ready to go. Have an emergency kit containing water, food, utensils, clothing etc. ready to go. Have medical prescriptions ready to go. Decide before hand where your family will meet as you may not be together when leaving your home, and who will be your outside contact as you may not be together. Again do not rely on the Government, remember the ice storm in Quebec a few years ago or more recently the levy failure in New Orleans. In a Provincial major disaster the Island of Saturna with its population of less than three hundred will be the last to receive help or aid.

There are many pamphlets that describe in detail the preparations you can take prior to a disaster to mitigate its effect on you and your family including what to do in severe weather, earthquakes, how to minimize the likelihood of a wildfire destroying your home and what you should pack in a survival kit.

If you wish to learn more or obtain some of the pamphlets or even volunteer please contact John McMillan at 539 519, Shirley Stonier at 539 5864 or Dawn Wood at 539 3494