By Flavio NienowLakes District News
The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) is looking into partnering with municipalities in order to improve the response to emergency events across the region.
The RDBN currently relies upon municipal emergency support services (ESS) teams to provide services to the rural areas. However, not all areas have enough ESS members to assist the public in the event of an emergency.
While Electoral Area D (Fraser Lake rural) has 12 ESS members, Electoral Area B (Burns Lake rural) and Electoral Area E (Francois/Ootsa rural) have six members.
Other areas such as Electoral G (Houston rural) and Electoral Area F (Vanderhoof rural) have zero ESS members.
This means that in the event of an emergency, the RDBN must transfer ESS teams from one area to another.
“This increases volunteer burnout and increases costs for travel, food and accommodation,” wrote Haley Jeffrey, emergency services manager for the RDBN, in a report recently presented to the regional district’s board.
In addition, Jeffrey said the RDBN has had to respond to emergency situations within municipal boundaries because of a lack of local capacity.
Furthermore, she says the RDBN’s use of municipal ESS teams is at the discretion of the municipalities.
In order to ensure an effective response to emergency events, Jeffrey says the regional district’s overall ESS capacity needs to improve.
“In staff’s opinion the most effective, equitable, and efficient approach to ESS involves all local governments in the RDBN contributing equally to a regional strategy in a coordinated manner,” she said.
In this proposed scenario, the RDBN would play a key role in organizing and funding training for all teams while the municipalities would assume responsibility for recruitment, holding regular meetings and ESS team engagement.
The Village of Burns Lake has expressed an interest in working with the RDBN on developing a template agreement.
“The village is interested in hearing what the regional district has to say and is always open to exploring more effective and efficient ways of doing business,” said Sheryl Worthing, chief administrative officer for the Village of Burns Lake.
Currently, when an emergency event occurs within Burns Lake boundaries, the village operates the emergency response.
If the emergency occurs outside village boundaries, the regional district then coordinates the response.
“We often lend support and man power [to the RDBN] if it is available, so staff thought it may be beneficial to look into having a joint service,” said Worthing.
Staff from both the regional district and the village will soon start working on a template agreement which will later be used to facilitate detailed discussions with all RDBN member municipalities.
Emergency support services (ESS) is a community-based provincial emergency response program designed to preserve the well-being of people who are affected by an emergency event ranging in scale from events such as an individual house fire to disasters involving mass evacuations.
Typical ESS activities include providing food, clothing, accommodations and other assistance to individuals displaced by an emergency event.