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  • Gayle Baker

Are You Prepared for an Emergency? Probably Not: More Than Likely, You Have Work to Do!

February 17

Only ten joined us for all or part of our ASK Salt Spring conversation about emergency preparedness. Compared to the 32 who joined us last week to discuss shelter and homes, one must assume that many Salt Springers (like me) prefer not to think of preparing for disasters. But, those of us who welcomed Salt Spring Island Electoral Area Emergency Program Coordinator, John Wakefield, and CRD’s Electoral Area Emergency Services Coordinator, Jane O’Higgins-Wilson, were very glad they came to this information-rich gathering.

After our Territorial Acknowledgement, John began by giving us an overview of the scope of our Emergency Program https://www.crd.bc.ca/service/fire-and-emergency-programs/ssi-emergency-program)

  1. Our Emergency Program coordinates 60 Salt Spring volunteer neighbourhood networks, called Pods, committed to helping one another during an emergency. Before COVID, many of these Pods enjoyed local gatherings (some with food and other costs funded by the Salt Spring Island Foundation’s Neighbourhood Grants https://ssifoundation.ca/foundation-initiatives/neighbourhood-small-grants/). According to John, these Pods have been impacted by our COVID-imposed isolation as well as a general local scarcity of volunteers. He is hoping that these Pods will be revitalized by plentiful neighbourhood gatherings rather than an emergency. A key to these Pods is neighbours knowing one another. Even it you are not a member of a Pod, the message was clear: Getting to know your neighbours is very important for mental health and security as well as emergency preparedness.

  2. Our Emergency Program also provides emergency support services (ESS) in cooperation with the Red Cross. ESS provides short-term basic support for people impacted by disasters, such as emergency reception centres and group lodging.

  3. Our Emergency Program rents a space in the former Middle School, the Salt Spring Island Multi Space (SIMS), for its office and Branch Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). It is a far better location that its former spot in the basement of the government offices on Lower Ganges Road. From this centre, John and volunteers help us prepare for emergencies as well as playing a crucial coordinating role during these emergencies. Despite the important role of our EOC during emergencies, remember that when someone’s health, safety, or property is in jeopardy, or a crime is in progress, call 9‑1‑1 for these police, fire or medical emergencies.

We learned that our Emergency Program is allocated approximately

$130,000 a year to fund its contract coordinator, John, pay rent and

operating costs, offer some honorariums for its hardworking volunteers,

and work with our community to become prepared for any emergency we

are likely to encounter.


A strong message throughout this ASK Salt Spring gathering was that, while John and our Emergency Program volunteers can help, it is up to each individual to make sure that they are prepared. This preparation includes:

  • Mitigation of Dangers, like FireSmarting (https://firesmartbc.ca/what-is-firesmart/) for our homes, something with which our firefighters would be happy to help (https://saltspringfire.com/firesmart-ssi/).

  • Subscribe to Alertable (crd.bc.ca/pans). John told us that if all ASK Salt Spring participants and readers of the report signed up for Alertable now, it would be a major success toward achieving a far higher level of Salt Spring preparedness. (You may want to do it right now?)

  • Prepare Survival Kits, like Shelter in Place resources, Grab and Go bags, and - don’t forget those things your pets will need in an emergency. (A Pod leader who attended told us that she always has four kits ready for any emergency.)

  • Keep a Handy Resource List of helping organizations so that, in an emergency, contacting them will be simpler;

  • Have an Emergency Plan to help you prepare, respond, and recover as soon as possible after being battered by an emergency; and

  • Buy a Radio: As our trusted communication methods are unlikely to work in an emergency, buy a GMRS radio! Although there are many options, the Motorola T482 was the favorite of John and Pod program coordinator, Amy MacLeod. It is available at electronic retailers, for approximately $150 for two. While other radios will also do the job, they liked this one best for a few reasons: it has a flashlight and an FM radio, it is water resistant, and it has a battery that will allow you to leave it plugged in all the time without damaging it. Each Pod, with a volunteer willing to take one and participate in monthly test, are given up to two of these radios. According to our emergency preparedness experts, having good communications tools, such as radios, are a big step toward preparing for any emergency likely to threaten us.

We, as individuals, should analyze the hazards most likely to impact us. Clearly, homes on the waterfront are far more vulnerable to tsunamis and king tides while homes buried in the forest on a hill face a higher likelihood of wind and fire threats. Packing emergency kits is only the first step in preparing ourselves; for more information, see: (https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/index-en.aspx). And, don’t forget to get to know your neighbours!


Needless to say, local businesses need to also prepare their emergency plans, working closely with other businesses and CRD to make sure they can coordinate to keep staff, customers, and property safe as well as recovering as quickly as possible.

As John closed his introductory remarks, he summarized the role of CRD’s Emergency Program as 1) Communication, 2) Collaboration with other responding agencies, and 3) Cooperation in the event of an emergency.

Jane, with a Master’s degree in the Disaster and Emergency Management Program of Royal Roads University moved from Journalism to Emergency Management 10 years ago after experiencing the Haida Gwaii earthquakes of 2012 and 2013:(https://ictnews.org/archive/haida-gwaii-77-magnitude-earthquake-strikes-near-planned-oil-sands-tanker-routes). She spoke with passion of her experience during and after these earthquakes a decade ago: Her reporting of the resulting evacuations changed her life.


She was shocked to discover that, while the earthquakes did not do significant damage, the fear and confusion suffered by residents forced to evacuate left significant and lasting impacts. She was also surprised that other residents thought there was no risk and refused to evacuate, leaving themselves in danger. She believed that the lack important information before and during the evacuation resulted in the refusal of some to evacuate and a greater level of distress and confusion for those who did evacuate.


She said the experience left her fascinated by the need for people to be convinced that a risk is real and to understand what they can do about that risk before they will take actions to protect themselves. Jane went on to say that she hoped to convince us that it was very important to have ongoing conversations about the hazards that face our households and community, so that we can understand our risks. When a few of us admitted that we did not want to be scared and worried, Jane responded that it was by understanding our risks and preparing for them that we can endure a disaster or emergency with less fear and confusion.


Did you know that you can go on to the CRD Prepare Yourself site (https://www.crd.bc.ca/prepare-yourself) to get an interactive map, locate your home or business, and discover if you are in a tsunami alert zone? (We learned from John that, while this site focuses only on tsunami danger areas, there is hope that this map will also eventually identify other danger zones, like fires.) While Salt Spring may be somewhat protected from tsunamis, these terrifying waves after an earthquake are wildly unpredictable, even to the experts seasoned at predicting them.


When the conversation shifted to earthquakes, we were told not to expect an alert: If you feel what you believe is an earthquake, immediately, Stop, Drop, and Hold On (https://www.shakeoutbc.ca/how-to-run-a-drill/drop-cover-and-hold-on/). It may be a small shaker, but you will never know until it is finished, and there may be aftershocks. We learned that there are many faults in the waters surrounding Salt Spring, and we have an amazing number of, often small, earthquakes each year. We also learned that there are two kinds of earthquakes: rolling up and down ones, and ones that shake the surrounding earth sideways. (The shakers are far more damaging to structures than the rollers.)


A participant who renovates and earthquake retrofits old homes told us that, while this retrofit ensures that your home will not fall, one must still expect damage from a large earthquake. When John was asked whether our public buildings are earthquake retrofitted, the answer was mixed. While new buildings, like the library and most of our schools, are retrofitted, as most of us know, the current firehall is a classic example of a public building vulnerable to earthquakes.

Are our BC Building Codes adequate to protect our buildings from the climate-induced emergencies in our future? Without a definitive answer, it was surmised that while earthquake retrofitting codes may be sufficient, these codes may not fully protect us from fires, heat domes, floods, and windstorms. But, speaking about heat domes: Did you know that most heat pump systems also offer air conditioning capabilities? And, there are some amazing rebates right now. Interested? Our Transition Salt Spring experts can help you: (https://transitionsaltspring.com/all-about-heat-pumps-webinar-video/)

We learned that, while there are neighborhood emergency preparedness groups in many communities, each is unique. While our Salt Spring Pod system had a period recently when it appeared to be veering toward a more bureaucratic structure, John assured us that our Pods are designed to be flexible and designed to meet the unique needs of each individual neighbourhood. While organizational decisions are generally left to Pod leaders, John welcomed us to call him, or email ssipod@crd.bc.ca, if your neighbourhood Pod organization could benefit from his expertise, or if you are simply trying to identify your Pod leader.

Our Emergency Program, like all Emergency Programs in BC, uses the Incident Commands System: (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/air-land-water/spills-and-environmental-emergencies/docs/intro-ics.pdf). John and his volunteers are ready to support First Responders (like our firefighters) in an emergency.

He also participated in a meeting of all First Responders and support organizations after the recent 2021 flood. At this meeting, it was concluded that the major issues to be addressed were technology, communications, and resources. One very positive resource outcome was our sandbag program, https://www.gulfislandsdriftwood.com/rainbow-road-sandbag-filling-station-makes-debut/), made possible through the collaboration of a wide variety of local organizations and the Capital Regional District.


We also learned that the difficulty getting information about road closures after the flood was due to a new local roll-out of the Drive BC Program and Emcon’s (our road maintenance contractor) need to address multiple impacts simultaneously. According to John, Emcon now is better-prepared to reliably input information about future flooding incidents into Drive BC. (This information is then posted on the Alertable application.) When a participant noted that Emcon workers were likely up their knees in mud actually doing the needed work, wondering if another agency could input this information, John assured us that our Emergency Program is ready to step in to help whenever asked.


Whew. . . as 1:00 approached, we realized that we had learned so much! As our small group got ready to leave, we applauded John for his clear determination to make sure Salt Springers are well prepared for emergencies as well as working as a key collaborator in response and recovery. And, we applauded Jane for her life-changing response to an emergency that continues to fuel her to passionately persuade us to Prepare Now. (Thanks, John and Jane!)


Please join us next Friday, February 24, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby, to welcome RCMP’s Clive Seabrook.

What would you like to ask Clive?

  • What do you see as Salt Spring’s most immediate safety challenges?

  • How do you propose to address them?

  • What can we do to help our community become safer?

  • What safety measures would you like to see implemented in 2023?

  • Can you tell us about your parking challenges in Ganges and hep us to find some solutions?

  • And?

Please join us Friday, February 24, 11-1, to welcome Clive!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings and

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings?


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15

Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!




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