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  • Gayle Baker

Prepare and "Keep It Boring!". . . . Lots to Learn About Emergency Management

November 24

While only 10 joined this ASK Salt Spring conversation about our preparedness for emergencies, we learned so much! Led by John Wakefield, Emergency Management Lead, Salt Spring Island, he was joined by Jolette Schenk, CRD Electoral Area Emergency Services Coordinator and Corey Anderson, Manager, Emergency Programs, both of whom had come from Victoria to join us.


After our Territorial Acknowledgement, John spoke briefly about accelerating challenges from climate-related weather emergencies. While things may seem to be much the same, it is John’s observation that on Salt Spring, much like the rest of the world, record heat domes, drought, and storms are ramping up awareness and concern. We learned that virtually all of Ganges - as far inland as the Library - are in a tsunami hazard zone.


After recognizing our vulnerability as an island, John reminded us that there are simple, concrete things we can do to prepare. These include:

  1. Sign up for Alertable (https://www.crd.bc.ca/service/fire-and-emergency-programs/public-alert-notification-system), free and available through the App Store as well as on most Alertable sites. The most effective source of local emergency information, in a serious event - like an evacuation alert or order - this information will be relayed by the CRD to the Alertable site. With about 5,500 Salt Springers already getting Alertable notifications, John, Jolette, and Corey are hopeful that virtually all Salt Springers will soon be prepared to get this life-saving information. We also learned that it is important to customize Alertable to your needs when you install it. You can even select an option for alerts when you travel. For a webinar on how alerts work, watch the CRD’s webinar on Alerting in the CRD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGQrjoU-Axs&t=1843s

  2. Pack Grab and Go bags for your family and pets with enough of the basics to sustain you for a few weeks. Often forgotten in a hurry, don’t forget your and your loved one’s medications. The best plan: have an easily-available list identifying all the things you will need if evacuated.

  3. Plan what you would do in an emergency. While sheltering in place is often the wisest choice, all situations are different. John asked us all to think about those What ifs and have a plan.

  4. Preventative measures are so important! While one immediately thinks of the value of FireSmarting your home (https://firesmartbc.ca/), there are other important things you should consider, detailed in the online resources of the Salt Spring Emergency Management Services site (https://www.crd.bc.ca/service/fire-and-emergency-programs/ssi-emergency-program). For more information about Grab and Go bags, and general personal preparedness, check out the Salt Spring Island Evacuation Guide.

  5. Volunteer! Salt Spring’s Emergency Management program is dependent upon you, our volunteers. About 400 Salt Springers are already involved in a variety of programs, including area branch operations centres, our new local Emergency Support Services, and our neighborhood Pods. But, more are needed! Interested? Contact John, and he will find you a role best suited to you: ssiepc@crd.bc.ca.

We then learned a bit about our guests, Jolette and Corey. Jolette joined CRD in her emergency services management role two years ago after years managing the office of an elementary school. Jolette comes from an emergency services background with police and military medics in her family, and we all agreed that managing the high activity levels of a bustling elementary school was excellent preparation for emergency services :).


Excited about her role as an Emergency Services Coordinator in the fast-evolving world of Emergency Management, Jolette spoke of her involvement with provincial Emergency Support Services (ESS) for evacuees. (https://ess.gov.bc.ca/). Supports offered through ESS include providing clothing, food, shelter, and money, and often emotional support to residents that have been evacuated from their homes due to an emergency or disaster. In addition to in-person support offered by trained volunteers at a reception center, she also spoke briefly about the growing CRD capacity for on-line evacuation support services through an on-line tool called ERA (Evacuee Registration and Assistance). This on-line option is offered by trained ESS volunteers not impacted by the disaster who connect via cell phone with evacuees to register evacuees and offer support. Giving information and emotional support, these volunteers can also offer evacuees practically-instant fund transfers into their accounts for emergency needs, based on a needs assessment performed by the volunteer.


Jolette is particularly pleased to be charged with organizing a team of ESS volunteers from all Electoral Areas, including Salt Spring, who will be trained on the use of the ERA tool, and will be available to support evacuees virtually, from any Electoral Area, should the need arise that exceeds the capacity of any one area. Recruiting volunteers ready to support in a disaster, she encouraged us to contact John if we want to become part of the solution. Passionate about helping those struggling during emergencies, she carries this passion into her private life as an Emergency Support Services volunteer in Saanich.


Corey joined us on Day 5 of being with CRD. While very new to CRD, he brings a broad emergency services background ranging from the front lines as a firefighter to his provincial role with the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness (EMCR): https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-management. Bringing that big picture to our conversation, he spoke briefly about the rapid changes in emergency preparedness as well as its growth. This shift in importance is well-illustrated by the fact that emergency management has shifted from a program within the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety to, as of December 2022, its own ministry, the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/organizational-structure/ministries-organizations/ministries/emergency-management-and-climate-readiness.


Along with this shift is new legislation that just passed on November 8 of this year: Modernized emergency management legislation - Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca). A major challenge Corey will be undertaking is to make sure that CRD Emergency Programs adhere to this new legislation and oversee modifications as needed. One major shift in this legislation is a move away from a Response-oriented approach to a more comprehensive focus on Mitigation, Preparedness, and Recovery in addition to Response. Theoretically, funding for preventative and recovery programs will reduce the need for as much focus on responding to a disaster. A daunting challenge to align current programs with this significantly-changed philosophy, Corey will certainly be busy! Hopefully he will join us again next year to assess progress and results for this expected major shift in our CRD emergency service programs.


Our first question asked of our emergency management guests was whether they were interested in learning more about the amazing work of Salt Spring’s Echo Valley Community Garden (https://echovalley.ca/). Citing a clear connection between replicating this amazing community garden throughout our neighbourhood Pods and feeding us in a disaster, this participant began the dialogue with our guests about a partnership. John promised to participate in this possibly-intriguing collaboration between emergency response and neighborhood food sources.


Damian, president of the nonprofit society creating our soon-to-be-live radio station, CHIR.fm, asked about the required override system for local emergencies. Expected to be up and running by February 2024, our station must prove that this override system is fully-functional within two weeks of going live. While he will soon know more, he anticipates that the hardware needed to offer this service will cost an estimated $1,500. Without an obvious Emergency Management source of these funds, our best local go to for nonprofit program start up needs, LCC Grants-in-Aid, was suggestion as an option.


We discussed the frightening possibility of being ordered to evacuate, speaking briefly of the terrifying unpredictability of recent incidents at North Shuswap (https://infotel.ca/newsitem/thousands-of-north-shuswap-residents-return-to-communities-scarred-by-fire/it100381) and Lahaina (https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/05/us/maui-lahaina-fire-petition-delay-tourist-return/index.html). Despite the fast-changing realities that made these disasters so horrifying, we were told that most emergency management efforts have a higher-level of predictability, often beginning with alerts and followed by an evacuation order if necessary to protect public safety. A motto for evacuation planning could be “Keep it boring; if it’s exciting, it’s dangerous.” As an emergency incident unfolds, best practice is for information and actions to follow a planned pattern. Corey advises, as things become more unruly and unpredictable, it’s better to walk away than to have to run.


While other communities are far more prepared than Salt Spring, like Bainbridge Island’s Dunkirk-like emergency flotilla (https://www.bainbridgewa.gov/200/Emergency-Flotilla), we all learned about the fast-increasing preparedness of our local Emergency Management program and how dependent our safety is upon self-preparation as well as volunteering to become a part of the solution.


As 1:00 was already upon us, we again lamented the oft-discussed challenge of preparedness for those without shelter during our freezing weather. With a far over-capacity Community Services shelter in freezing weather, we wondered if their care could fall to our Emergency Management Program. We learned that a Weather Emergency may be declared in response to an extreme weather event with a compounding issue, such as widespread, long-lasting power outage, in order to provide temporary warming centres for citizens displaced from their homes. Emergency Management can also collaborate with provincial agencies and local service providers during periods of extreme weather to address the winter-long needs of an estimated 100 locals.


Despite the continuing difficulty of finding answers for our insecurely-housed, what a lot we learned about our growing Emergency Management Program! We should all sign up for the Alertable application, prepare ourselves with Grab and Go bags and a plan, connect with our neighbourhood Pods, and volunteer with John: ssiepc@crd.bc.ca.


With deep appreciation for all the information, practical solutions, and sense of calm and competence (Keep it Boring), we said a grateful farewell to John, Jolette, and Corey.


Please join us this Friday, December 1,11-1, in the SIMS (the former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.


What would you like to ask him?

  • Can you tell us what is happening with the Police Review initiative?

  • Do you have any advice to us concerning our insecurely-housed as freezing weather approaches?

  • What proposed legislation do you strongly support?

  • What bills concern you?

  • What would you like to accomplish in 2024?

  • And?

Please join us this Friday to welcome Adam!


Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grand Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!


Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


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 questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


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

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered

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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