Still no integrated emergency plan or rehearsal
A year into the anticipated pandemic, what have we learned? Are there lessons to be had for dealing with crisis?
The most basic duty of government is to protect its citizens, as outlined in the Community Charter, the legislation underlying B.C. municipalities.
Capital region residents should be very concerned, there’s still no integrated emergency plan for the region and there’s been no dress rehearsal for the Big One.
The pandemic is but one a dozen naturally occurring hazards, with earthquakes the other most topical for Victoria. Can we apply lessons learned from the pandemic to our preparedness for an earthquake?
Last fall the Black Press ran an excellent series of articles on emergency preparedness. In her article Be Prepared: Are you ready for the Big One?, Bureau Chief Katherine Engqvist reports that there is a 1 in 3 probability of a damaging earthquake in the Capital Region in the next 50 years.
The series, worth a read if you missed it, looks at the preparedness of individuals (evidently not great considering the panic buying of toilet paper and canned goods in March), hospitals, schools, ferry services and readiness in food safety. But what of local government?
Some say the pandemic was unexpected – it wasn’t really. We knew we’d have a pandemic – it was a matter of when, not if. And we will have a pandemic again, we just don’t know details. Fortunately, Dr. Perry Kendall developed a health pandemic plan in 2005 and had the foresight to hire Dr. Bonnie Henry for her leadership and experience. In the Canadian cultural context, citizens responded and we protected our health care system.
To date, we have been very fortunate that the health care system in Greater Victoria is still very functional. Yet aside from a health plan, we’ve been caught like a deer in the headlights and to some extent, even after almost a year, in denial that we are in a crisis.
The health plan is only one leg of support for a pandemic plan stool. There are socio-economic considerations as well. The plan to support those impacted by a pandemic – the elderly, the unemployed, the homeless, women, children, and others was not developed. Nor was the plan to deal with the economic fallout, at great expense and devastation to our business community, the jobs that business provides and worse, the potential of a depression.
It is well established that the most effective way to deal with abnormal events, is to create and test a crisis management and emergency preparedness plan. Events, situations, and mitigations become too complex to react when the abnormal happens. When governments react to crisis, rather than executing a plan, the results rarely meet the needs of the citizens. It is not that this issue has not gone unacknowledged by governments. In addition to the pandemic health plan there have been efforts toward emergency response plans
In the fall of 2009, the provincial government prepared a pandemic plan which acknowledges the issues and assigns roles of responsibility but no measures to mitigate.
In June, 2016, Emergency Management B.C. hosted the province’s first ever full-scale earthquake and tsunami response exercise, and tested and acted upon critical elements of the earthquake IRP in preparation for a real event.
Regionally, the CRD conducted tsunami modelling in 2013 and has been updating since the 2018 Alaska earthquake. Regionally, the CRD Emergency Management Committee was asked to accept a revised Corporate Emergency Plan on December 16, 2020. The update was initiated by learnings from recent events – wildfires, tsunami warning, windstorms and is aligned to Emergency BC (EMBC) and the Emergency Program Act.
The CRD’s websitewww.Prepareyourself.ca is a collaboration between the Emergency Programs of all 13 municipalities and three electoral areas in the Capital Region on Southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Only one big problem: It’s basically a collection of 16 individual plans that have not been fully integrated. or dealt with co-ordination. So, is this adequate? This is unacceptable. Has there been a critically needed regional, comprehensive test of local government’s preparedness for an emergency, for a crisis?
Given the CRD’s inability to produce an integrated transportation plan (in normal times) or the track record of ineffective, individual municipalities reactions to the pandemic – we think not. – Team Grumpy Taxpayer$