The Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) has received a grant of $27,625 for a review of evacuation routes in the district.
The funding was announced by the province on Aug. 9. The TNRD is one of 19 local governments receiving a total of $880,000 through the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund, to help communities develop and update emergency plans, which include evacuation route planning.
“Recent wildfires in remote regions of B.C. have put communities at risk of being cut off from the rest of the province, highlighting the need for good, advanced planning to ensure residents are able to evacuate safely,” said Bowinn Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness.
“We also know that First Nations and local governments have the most up-to-date information to provide to people to keep them safe. These funds will help ensure British Columbians can leave the area safely when a disaster hits, and will improve emergency notification, alerts, and communication to people during emergencies.”
Mike Knauff, the TNRD’s Emergency Program Coordinator, notes that the regional district currently has 18 different emergency plans — some of them for member municipalities — on its website. He notes that the recent funding will only apply to looking at evacuation routes in the TNRD’s electoral areas, not municipalities.
“We’ll be looking at plans in the regional district itself,” he explains. “Some of those evacuation plans go back to around 2013, so this is going to allow us to update the plans and bring them up to modern standards.
“We’ll be looking to capture timing — how long it takes to evacuate a particular chunk of ground — and at what values do we have to be considerate of, like agricultural producers. We can identify key contacts in communities, and community preparedness groups that work in our favour while doing evacuations. Communicating with them has proven to be a good thing, as opposed to keeping them in the dark.”
Knauff says that given the number of evacuation plans currently on the books in the TNRD, the recent funding will not be enough to update all of them.
“It will be incremental. We’ll pick areas with a higher history of evacuation, or higher populations, then use them as templates to bring the others up to snuff.
“We’ll look at areas with clusters of populations, and ultimately we’ll address all properties inside the regional district. But we won’t get down to the granular level of every housepoint. We’ll count on residents to do their own planning, but they can reference our evacuation plans and get a good idea of what the major corridors are going to be.”
Knauff adds that a big challenge facing the TNRD is that, unlike municipalities, the regional district doesn’t own any roads. “Ultimately, it comes down to partnerships, and working with communities and ministries to fill some of those gaps.”
He points to work that’s been done at Green Lake as a perfect example.
“An evacuation route has recently been finished there after many years of work. We used some parts of old Forest Service Roads, and some new Crown tenure, and made emergency egress that’s gated. We’re looking to enter into partnerships with ministries, or make some of those roads passable if we’re in an emergency egress situation.
“The hope, with evacuation alerts and orders, is to get people out sooner. Some roads aren’t passable to anything but pickup trucks. Forest Service Roads have a lot of challenges; we don’t want to send people down them in the dark.”
He adds that while Forest Service Roads were used when highways were closed due to wildfires earlier this year on Vancouver Island, they can cause all sorts of complications. “In some places in the province that’s the only option, so if you’re going to be using that roadway, what signage do you need to put up? We have a stock of signs, and have to figure out where to put them to best effect, and how to capitalize on the ministry’s messaging like mobile signs. There’s all sorts of planning.”
Knauff says doing that planning is always a challenge.
“We’d like to do it in non-peak season, but the way the world is lately there doesn’t seem to be a non-peak season. We’ll try to do it over the course of fall, winter, and early spring. We have a year to get it spent.
“Grant money is a double-edged sword. It’s great to get it, but it takes a lot of horsepower to get the project done.”