The two-lane Salmon River Bridge and the spring flooding that occurs annually around it is one area that causes problems for area residents. (File photo)

Shuswap emergency team tops in B.C. when disasters strike

Wildfires of 1998 prompted development of a regional approach to emergencies

When it comes to flooding, wildfires and other disasters threatening people in the Shuswap, they’re in good hands.

The Shuswap Emergency Program, or SEP, is considered a model for other parts of B.C.

“We’re recognized as leaders in the province,” explained Derek Sutherland, team leader of Protective Services with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District to city council. “The province turns to us when they need assistance.”

SEP is shared by the City of Salmon Arm, the District of Sicamous and CSRD electoral areas C, E, D and F. It is managed by the CSRD.

It all started following the 1998 Silver Creek wildfire that saw 7,000 residents evacuated.

“We heard at the time, it was the largest evacuation in Canadian history due to wildfires,” Sutherland said, explaining 7,000 is no longer a very large number given recent events like the evacuation of 80,000 during the Fort McMurray wildfire.

The 1998 wildfire revealed the need for a better emergency response plan.

“The powers that be at that time decided a regional approach would be the most effective way for the Shuswap area,” he said.

The three areas collaborated, creating SEMP, with the ‘M’ for management later dropped. Disasters – when a hazard intersects with a population – can now be handled through one emergency operations centre (EOC), with one emergency program coordinator, Tom Hansen, and one part-time facilitator, Cathy Semchuk, which includes her position as Emergency Social Services (ESS) director.

As well as staff, equipment can be shared, creating economies of scale. Sutherland says the program’s success is due to the work over the years of Semchuk and retired coordinator Cliff Doherty.

Read more: Putting focus on preparedness

Read more: Accommodation for livestock, evacuees offered

Read more: Evacuated cats find ideal haven in Salmon Arm

Significant flooding occurred in 2012, 2017 and 2018.

“When things are flooding in Salmon Arm, flooding in Blind Bay and flooding in Sicamous, we can coordinate a response with one EOC…”

He says ESS is always on call. If Fire Chief Brad Shirley needs help following a fire, he can call ESS which makes sure the basic needs of food, shelter and security for the victims are filled.

Sutherland says he’s very proud of the program, now with 86 volunteers, Semchuk has built.

ESS also helps out other regions; in 2017, for instance, when evacuees from the Williams Lake wildfires were heading to Kamloops, hundreds of evacuees came through Salmon Arm’s evacuation centre.

The Shuswap Emergency Program also has a number of special teams such as the structural protection unit – sprinkler trailers to protect homes, which are deployed provincially when not in use in the Columbia-Shuswap. There’s also the EOC volunteer core, a team of volunteers who take the pressure off program staff, and mobile operations, a five-ton truck that can be dispatched to the scene of disasters.

Coun. Kevin Flynn, who invited SEP to present, thanked Sutherland, his team and fire chief Shirley.

“I was shocked during election campaigning and all candidates’ meetings how few people know what we have… It’s a multi-jurisdictional approach, a model provincially – we’re really lucky to have the team we have and the structure we have.”

Read more: Planning for all emergencies

Read more: Salmon Arm, regional district send firefighters north

Read more: Salmon River might not rise beyond last week’s high

Read more: More Shuswap firefighters join battle against B.C.’s wildfires


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

RDCO to host Repair Café to help Kelowna residents fix household items

‘If you can carry it in under your arm, they’ll do their best to tackle the problem, with your help’

ALC prohibits land exemption status for three Westbank school sites

The decision means a new secondary school won’t be built along Webber Road

West Kelowna gets more firefighting power

10 new recruits have officially been placed on the city’s roster

Kelowna pot shop looks to the future on Canada’s first cannibersary

Kelowna’s Hobo Recreational Cannabis store has been in operation since July 25, 2019

Movie extras wanted for Kelowna film production

A street hockey scene needs drop-in extras outside of the Kelowna Gospel Mission

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

Canucks beat Stanley Cup champs 4-3 in a shootout

Leivo nets winner, Vancouver dumps St. Louis for fourth straight win

‘The more you test, the more you find’: Beef recalls a sign of success, experts say

Despite appearances, experts say a recent rise in major recalls is not a sign of food supply problems

VIDEO: Meet your Kelowna-Lake Country candidates

All seven Kelowna-Lake Country candidates answer questions about themselves and their policy

VIDEO: Meet your Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola candidates

Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola candidates answer questions about themselves and their policy

One year later: Vernon pot stores look back at legalization

Edibles made legal on first anniversary of recreational cannabis

Memorial remembers North Okanagan’s most marginalized

Prayers and flowers for those who have died on the streets

Japanese buyer expands wood pellet contract with B.C.’s Pinnacle

Mitsui and Co. increases contract with Interior energy producer

Great Vernon Pumpkin Race to star in South Korean documentary

Pumpkin Classic event to kick off this weekend with gourd weigh-ins

Most Read