(Black Press)

Lake Country tourism centre calls for better emergency plan

The tourist centre says it was relied on to provide information during the summer floods and fires

Lake Country’s visitor centre faced challenges over the summer, due in part to a lack of regional or provincial emergency strategy that applies to tourists, says a report to be presented to district council.

Visitor centre officials are calling on the region to better co-ordinate and build a plan to prepare for emergencies.

At the centre’s three locations in Lake Country, signs were placed with emergency contact numbers throughout the summer as fires and flooding struck. But there are lingering concerns about staff being properly trained to handle emergency situations as well as how information was delivered to visitors.

“The way the information came to us is that we actively sought it out,” said Lake Country Tourism business manager Deb Leroux.

“But there was this concern that although (the tourism centres) were all working really hard and had the same intention in mind there wasn’t an overall plan, there was no manual for this.”

Leroux said there is a “gap” in emergency response policies.

In a Lake Country Visitor Centre operations report, which will be presented to council Tuesday night, it said there are no regional or provincial emergency strategies that apply to visitors.

“It’s not a criticism, we didn’t know, the district probably didn’t know… it was just none of us were prepared. The most important time for a communication plan is in an emergency and there wasn’t one,” said Leroux.

“In the long run, what we like to see is access co-ordinated whether it’s through CORD, or another body, that brings the (Visitor Information Centre) managers at least, if not the whole staff, together each spring to be prepared in advance for what may happen.”

Lake Country’s three tourism centres are located in Oyama, outside of the Kangaroo Creek Farm and at events with a mobile unit. The visitor centre’s greatest number of visitors came from the Okanagan and Lower Mainland.

Kelowna city manager Ron Mattiussi was the director of the Emergency Operations Centre last summer.

He said the operations centre communicates with tourists depending on the situation and the centre turns to social media to get the word out to visitors quickly.

“Although there’s no chapter or anything specific, like animals, like farmers, we have to sort of deal with the problem as it arises,” he said.

The hardest areas to deal with in terms of tourists are campgrounds, as the centre relies on the tactical evacuation of the area by the RCMP and fire departments, he said.

However, he doesn’t think there is a need for specific policies addressing tourists, placing the need to react effectively over a planned strategy.

“Could there be problems? Yeah, it’s an emergency, it’s a big event. But I think what we do opposed to having a plan is try to give information as quickly as possible and correct any misinformation,” he said.

“I think the important thing is to be able to react rather than anticipate everything that happens.”

He suggested for visitor centres to monitor emergency response centres and “tell us what kind of information they need,” as the emergency centre can’t put out specific calls to every individual.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


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