Cortes Island’s Emergency Preparedness & Awareness Weekend

By Roy L Hales

Cortes Island Volunteer Fire Captain Eli McKenty received the page at 8 a.m.  There was a fire at the Recycling Center on Squirrel Cove Road. As the island’s fire chief was not available, McKenty was in charge. He had, as yet, little indication of what lay ahead. Never-the-less, while he was waiting for his crew to assemble, McKenty received word that one of the recycling centre’s staff called. The  flammable shed storage is burning and there is sounds of explosions. The staff member called 911 and was fighting the fire. McKenty alerted the ambulance and, as a precaution alerted an elite provincial fire fighting unit that it might be needed. Arriving on the scene some 40 minutes later, he discovered the fire had already spread to the trees. If this were an actual event, tomorrow’s newspaper headlines would probably say something like “Cortes Island Fire Leads To Mass Evacuation“. In reality, this table talk was one of the components of Cortes Island’s Emergency Preparedness and & Awareness Weekend. The talk also mentioned the great importance of businesses conducting a reverse address lookup on customers they are dealing with within Cortes, especially when fire hazards are involved.

Cortes Island’s Emergency Preparedness & Awareness Weekend

Chili Cook-Off atCortes Island Emergency Preparedness & Awareness Weekend
As many as 200 people may have come to the fair sometime between 11:00 and 4:00 on May 28, a substantial number considering that Cortes Island’s permanent population is only five times that number. The chilli cook-off was an important draw – Roy L Hales photo

The two day event, held May 27 and 28, consisted of three separate venues. On Saturday night, there was a showing of Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary “Before the Flood.” The weekend’s grand finale was a fair with booths from aparticipating organizations and a chilli cook-off between 10 local chefs.

As for the table talk discussion, Shaun Koopman,  Protective Services Coordinator for the  Strathcona Regional District (SRD), explained, “We have at least one table top exercise per SRD community per year, so one in Campbell River, Tahsis, Zeballos, Quadra, Cortes etc. You can never exercise too much. We try to make it as relevant as we can to the community. We pick the highest threat to the community.”

He added that the Cortes Island weekend would not have come into being if not were not for Barry and Amanda Glickmen.

I asked the Glickmens for further details.

Kinds of foods to stockpile for an emergency
In the case of an emergency. Cortes Islanders should be prepared to look after themselves for two to four weeks. An ESS display of the kind of foods to stockpile at the Preparedness & Awareness Fair – Roy L Hales photo

They said that though volunteers from Emergency Support Services have been on Cortes Island for close to a decade, the week-end event was inspired by the long power outage during last February’s big snow dump. The Glickmans had been accompanying Shaun Koopman to an event on Tahsis, when his cell phone started ringing.

Cortes Island’s Emergency Support Services

Amanda Glickman explained, “Unfortunately, people had not prepared themselves properly. Some had run out of firewood. Some didn’t have any alternative means of heating, other than electricity and after the power had been out for about five days they were not doing well. The phones were down. A lot of our elderly people and our homebound people were not able to get any assistance. There was a problem brewing and because our Emergency Support Services has a limited number of active individuals, who are also dealing with their own issues, there was nothing that could be done.”

moderator of the table top exercise holding a map displaying Cortes Island's evacuation zones
David Carmichael, moderator of the table top exercise, with a map displaying Cortes Island’s evacuation zones – Roy L Hales photo

She pointed to the fact Cortes Island does not have an RCMP detachment. This  would be problematic during an emergency event. How do we tell people there is a problem? How do we notify them  that there is an evacuation order?

“If there is a fire, the fire department is fighting the fire. They are not going door to door to see how everyone is doing,” added Barry Glickman.

Though the ESS divided Cortes Island into seven zones, so far they have only neighbourhood coordinators for Potlatch road. They are seeking volunteers to coordinate emergency activities in Squirrel Cove, Manson’s Landing and Whaletown.

Barry stressed, “Cortes Island is the last place on earth where we would like to lose control, just hand it over to an outside group, because we haven’t taken the time to groom volunteers.”

Cortes Is The End Of The Line

How long to repair ferry docks?
If there is an earthquake, it could damage the BC ferry dock. ESS volunteer S. L. Muir’s cartoon, “How long to repair ferry docks? No re-supply to or from Vancouver Island.” – Roy L Hales photo

“On Cortes Island, many people do not realize that we are kind of the end of the line. If there is a region-wide event, it will probably be about four weeks before we can get any food, or water or resources from elsewhere,” said Amanda.

Koopman said that when the earthquake strikes, even Campbell may be cut off for two weeks.

“At the table top today, we focused on evacuation. We talked grab and go bags. We talked about getting off the island etc,” he said.

“It is a completely different protocol for an earthquake. An earthquake is a shelter-in-place event. We can’t evacuate people because there is no place to evacuate to. Are you going to go to Quadra Island? – Quadra is just as affected as you are, if not more.  So post earthquake, you are staying in your neighbourhood: in your car, or a tent in your front lawn. Hopefully you have two to four weeks of food to sustain you.”

Three Different Kits

Grab and Go Bags
Grab and Go Bags, on display in the fair’s ESS booths – Roy L Hales photo

“Personally, I have three different kits.”

“We talked about the grab and go bag today. That is for an evacuation. That’s the kind of items I am going to need if all of a sudden the RCMP knocks on my door and say I have five minutes to go. I have family photos in there. I have copies of my insurance and prescription medication etc etc.

“For an earthquake, I have a grab and stay bag. That’s where I have a tent and a water purifier. That’s where I have my 25 -years-good freeze dried food.”

“Do I need a whole bunch of food for a grab and go bag? No, because if I’m evacuating I’m eventually going to end up someplace that has that. (For example) The people evacuated from Fort McMurray eventually did end up somewhere that has showers, running water toilets etc. You’ll definitely want some water and munchies for the ride… but different kinds of emergencies require different types of planning.”

Koopman also has a Rescue bag, “specifically for an earthquake.”

“In that bag I have crow bars, heavy duty work gloves, dust mask, eye wear and a bunch of food and water to fuel the first responders that are rescuing people.”

“Help” and “Okay” signs at the ESS booth, They are meant to be displayed in home and car windows during an emergency event – Roy L Hales photo

Amanda added, “The better we are able to prepare ourselves as individuals, households and neighbourhoods, the more resilient we will be. Many people do not recognize that post dramatic stress disorder, is very closely associated to one’s preparedness, psychologically and physically. So by preparing the individual, we are able to help our friends more, help our neighbours more and help our first responders more – because they are not having to take care of us and we are then able to help our community.”

Amateur Radio And Community Radio

The Glickman’s also pointed to the invaluable role both amateur radio operators and community radio stations can play in an emergency event.

How shall the fire department deploy?
How shall the fire department deploy? A hastily drawn map of Cortes Island’s Recycling depot used during the table top exercise. – Roy L Hales photo

“Amateur radio has proven its’ resilience over time, but once again you need to have people who are trained. That’s why we have a radio club,” said Amanda.

To which Barry added, “With CKTZ (Cortes Community Radio, 89.5 FM) we have an extraordinary resource that we should be using to educate the public on general emergency issues and, in the case of an emergency, become a reliable source of proper information. We need more effort in that area and more training.”

Further Information

There are a great many more anecdotes and information in the podcast at the top of this page.

The following links lead to:

Top Photo Credit: Cortes Island Emergency Preparedness & Awareness Weekend’s table top exercise. Volunteers from the ESS are wearing orange vests. Shaun Koopman, Protective Services Coordinator, Strathcona Regional District, is at the top of the photo. Amanda (checking the photo she just took) & Barry Glickman are to the left. Cortes Island Fire Chief Mac Driver and one of the ambulance team are in the foreground – Roy L Hales photo

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