Over the years, the Central Okanagan has seen its share of large scale emergencies.
While forest fires, floods and other natural disasters may be beyond the control of area residents, there are ways you can reduce the risk and impact of whatever emergency you might face, say local officials.
And the key is being prepared.
Next week is Emergency Preparedness Week across the country, including here in the Central Okanagan.
So emergency preparedness officials want to make sure residents are ready if they have to leave their homes at short notice and have to fend for themselves for at least 72-hours.
One of the most important things single individuals and families can do is to have a plan, discuss it amongst others who live in their home and have an outside contact who can help them connect with each other in the event of an emergency.
Kelowna deputy fire chief Jason Brolund, who is also the regional emergency preparedness coordinator for the Central Okanagan, said this upcoming week is all about getting the word out to the public that they have a big part to play in being prepared.
Brolund said the authorities are constantly tweaking the regional plan and carrying out exercises to prepare it for virtually any type of emergency.
It could be anything from fire to flood, plane crash to tanker accident on the highway, or even responding to major events like an earthquake on the coast that could send thousands of people here.
He says it’s important that local residents prepare themselves as well.
Officials recommend putting to gather a “grab-and-go” kit that includes the basics to help them get through the first few days of an evacuation.
Also, either have what you hold dear—such as photos, important documents, passports, medications etc.—on hand or a list that tells where they all are so they can be retrieved quickly in the case of an evacuation.
Bruce Smith, communications co-ordinator for the regional district, said the list should include items that you may not immediately think of, such as eye glasses and even cell phone chargers.
“Those are the sorts of things that you may need right away,” he said.
According to Brolund, because of Kelowna’s experience with the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire and the fires and flooding we have had in this area since then—such as the forest fires in Glenrosa, Seclusion Bay and Trepanier, all of which prompted evacuations— the public should be better prepared than they may in fact be.
And the time to think about how to respond is now, not in the heat of the moment.
“It’s a conversation that may only take 30 minutes but could be crucial,” said Brolund.
One person who has been on both sides of the issue—as a person who was evacuated in 2003, saw much of her neighbourhood destroyed by fire and has sat on city council and helped craft subsequent changes to the regional emergency plan— is former Kelowna mayor Sharon Shepherd.
Shepherd said as a result of the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire 11 years ago, she has become “passionate” about emergency preparedness and has even given presentations about it on behalf of the Red Cross.
“I have a (grab-and-go) kit and in terms of education, I would rate where I’m at as 100 per cent. But when it comes to actually being ready, I’d say I’m only halfway there, and that’s being generous,” said Shepherd, admitting she, like others, tend to become complacent when an emergency is not staring her in the face.
“I have a pack and I know what I am supposed to have in it , but it’s not all there yet.”
Still, Shepherd said she hopes next week will help serve as a reminder to the public to start talking about the issue with family and friends and start thinking about what they would do, what they need and how ready they really are.
According to Brolund and Smith, you should be prepared to cope on your own for at least the first 72 hours of an emergency, while first responders and rescue workers help those in urgent need.
By taking a few simple steps, you can become better prepared to face a range of emergencies, anytime, anywhere.
It’s important to:
• Know the risks—Although the consequences of disasters can be similar, knowing the risks specific to your community and your region can help you better prepare
• Make a plan—It will help you and your family know what to do
• Get an emergency kit. During an emergency, we will all need some basic supplies. You may have to get by without power or tap water. Be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours in an emergency.
And key to having a grab-and-go kit is making sure it is kept up-to-date.
Brolund said visiting www.cordemergency.ca is a good place to start when it comes to planning.
“That’s where you can join more than 1,500 other people who have already subscribed to receive email information updates whenever the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is activated in response to any emergency in the Central Okanagan,” he said.
Subscribers receive real time notices whenever any new information is released from the Emergency Operation Centre, including detailed maps showing areas under evacuation alerts and orders.
He said the cordemergency.ca website proved to be an incredibly valuable direct information source during past flooding and wildfire events in this region.
“You’ll also find links on the website to a wide variety of information that will be useful as your family makes its own emergency plans, from floods to wildfires and severe weather-related emergencies,” said Brolund.
He added that Emergency Preparedness Week gives everyone a chance to prepare and take stock of their family’s needs now, in a “calm, stress-free and rational way.”
The cordemergency.ca website also has links to the wealth of emergency planning information available through the provincial Emergency Management BC and federal GetPrepared.ca programs.
For more information, a selection of emergency preparedness pamphlets is available at the regional district office at 1450 KLO Rd. in Kelowna and at the main Kelowna Fire Hall at 2255 Enterprise Way.