Is Strathcona Regional District Prepared For A Major Emergency?

By Roy L Hales

In light of the wildfire situation in British Columbia’s interior, it seemed like a good time for an update on our area’s emergency preparedness. So I asked Shaun Koopman, the district’s Protective Services Coordinator, “Is Strathcona Regional District prepared for a major emergency?”

(The podcast above is an enlarged version of the program broadcast on Cortes Community Radio, (CKTZ, 89.5FM) on Wednesday July 19, 2017. This broadcast also included a segment called Whale Tales

Is Strathcona Regional District Prepared For A Major Emergency?

Is Strathcona Regional District Prepared For A Major Emergency? Here are Cortes Island’s evacuation routes – courtesy Strathcona Regional District

Our conversation began with an update on the province’s wildfire situation. The number of displaced persons in the interior has more than doubled since we met. Though the situation is not as critical on the coast, we are heading into fire season.

“What is happening in the interior could easily happen here, especially as we roll into the summer and things get hotter,” said Koopman.

The Strathcona Regional District (SDR) has Community Wildfire Protection Plans for Campbell River, Cortes IslandGold River, 
Quadra IslandSayward, Tahsis, and Zeballos on their website.

“They talk you through the community; the fire history; the vegetation; where the highest fire hazards are compared to population density and vegetations types that are there … It is a comprehensive 100 page plan with recommendations and everything you could want to know about community wildfires …. ”

Many rural communities do not possess the resources to fight a major wildfire. Despite the impressive responses by local firefighters and an elite provincial unit, the appropriate response during a recent drill on Cortes Island was to evacuate the civilian population.

Canada’s Most Costly Disasters: Floods

Extend of the 2016 flood in Sayward – Strathcona Regional District

Though the current focus is wildfires, the nation’s most costly disasters come from another source.

“Flooding causes the most damage from disasters, and evacuations,  in Canada. It is our highest risk and it is one like wildfires that will become exasperated by climate change. As sea levels rise, the king tides increase,” said Koopman.

Though this is not as much of a threat on Cortes Island, flooding can be a serious problem on the Salmon and Oyster Rivers and, last November, the Campbell River came dangerously close to overtopping its banks.

“We want to try and understand how is climate change going to influence this and also communicating that to the public.”

The Actions We Take as Households

Click on image above to access the Home Owners FireSmart Manuel

Returning to the problem of wildfires, Koopman emphasized, “The actions we take as households will determine the losses.”

There is a FireSmart Manual, which tells homeowners how to mitigate their risk, and a firesmart checklist.

Over 80% of the homes that burned during the Fort McMurray wildfire failed the firesmart checklist; Over 75% of the homes that were saved had a low firesmart rating. (Firesmart is like golf: you want a low rating, not a high one.)

  • Do you have the wood for your wood stove right against your home? 
  • Is it stored 5 to 10 feet from your home, if not more? 
  • Is roof metal? Or wood shingles? 
  • Do you store propane of gasoline against your house? 

“I’m not saying that [abiding by the firemart guide] will protect your home 100%, or that Fort McMurray would not happened had the firesmart principles been abided by, but I think it is safe to say the impacts would have been a lot less.”

A SRD survey of 1,000 houses revealed that:

  • Only 5% of the households in Campbell River evaluated their homes using the firesmart checklist
  • in Sayward, the number is 33%
  • Cortes Island – 27%
  • Quadra Island – 30%
  • Gold River – 5%

Grab & Go? Or Grab & Stay?

Click on image above to access the Connect Rocket Signup Website

Everyone should a special kit prepared in case they are given 10 minutes to evacuate their homes.

“For a wildfire, or a hazmat spill, your evacuating. Your going somewhere and for the most part  it will be someplace that has basic amenities. So do you need 100 water bottles in your grab and go bag? No, you’ll be going somewhere that has that,” said Koopman.

“What do you need right now, if you may never be able to return to your home again?”

A usb stick with your family photos? Copies of your insurance and ID. are very important. Do you have special medication? Or if you have a baby, diapers and a bottle.

“I always change my grab and go bag throughout the year. For winter, I have it stuffed with a parka, tooks etc. I take that out in the summer,” said Koopman.

If an earthquake hits, there won’t be anywhere to evacuate to. People will be staying in their neighbourhoods.

“In my grab and stay kit I have a tent and a sleeping bag in case I cannot sleep in my house. I have 50 litres of water  …”

Some things are applicable to  both grab and go and grab and stay bags, like a solar powered charger.

(There is much more information in the podcast above, or available through the links below.)

Important Links

Connect Rocket Signup Website (for emergency updates):

Emergency Program Facebook Page:

Twitter: @sep_epc

Emergency Program website:

Top photo credit: “Help” and “Okay” signs from Cortes Island’s May 2017 Emergency Preparedness & Awareness Weekend – Roy L Hales photo

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