Smoke from a fire southwest of Deka Lake that resulted in evacuation orders on July 1. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Smoke from a fire southwest of Deka Lake that resulted in evacuation orders on July 1. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

CRD ‘unduly’ impacted by natural disasters

Recommendations have been made to hire three new staffers for the emergency management department

The Cariboo Regional District has been “unduly impacted” by a decade of significant disasters and emergencies – from wildfires to floods, landslides, and environmental disasters – which has taken its toll on the emergency management department, according to a new report.

The situation, particularly over the past five years, has meant the two-person emergency management department has had to focus solely on response and recovery and neglect the other pillars, such as preparedness and mitigation, said Chris Marsh, who prepared the report for the CRD. Program and staff development, and in some cases, staff wellness and safety have also been put on the sidelines, he said.

“The CRD is probably one of the most impacted regions in the province in how much things have changed in the past five to 10 years,” Marsh told the Free Press after a presentation to the CRD’s Committee of the Whole (COW) last week. “I really think at this point staff is trying to deal with current emergencies and recover from past emergencies.”

Marsh, who was commissioned to do a report for the CRD, said the regional district’s emergency program has risen to meet such challenges again and again – evacuating thousands of residents, coordinating massive response and recovery efforts, releasing hundreds of pieces of information to the public.

But the combination of the extreme impacts of these disasters is taking a toll. His report suggests 46 recommendations for improvements, including adding at least three more staff members to the emergency management department and pooling resources with local municipalities such as 100 Mile and Williams Lake to ensure the CRD is meeting updated provincial legislation and WorkSafeBC requirements.

“It’s having everyone come together and work as a team,” he said. “Emergencies don’t really respect jurisdictions.”

CRD Chair Margo Wagner said she wasn’t surprised by the findings, noting the Emergency Operations Centre has been open since March 2020 and will likely remain active through the winter with land slippage. She expects other regional districts will likely face similar issues going forward, following the recent wildfires and changing climate.

The COW will recommend the CRD include funding for the additional positions in the upcoming preliminary budget and determine the cost to taxpayers, she said. “We have to have the money in order to hire the people – if we can even find the people,” she said.

Marsh noted the CRD staff and emergency management department is working “really hard” and commended the CRD for its “forward-thinking” in commissioning the report.

“It’s great to see an organization like the CRD concerned about their people and their residents and trying to make things better.”

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