Emergency Preparedness in Nelson

“Emergency planning for communities is sometimes like having a difficult conversation in a family; everyone knows you need to have it, but it can be hard to tackle. We are having that conversation about how our…

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“Emergency planning for communities is sometimes like having a difficult conversation in a family; everyone knows you need to have it, but it can be hard to tackle. We are having that conversation about how our community can be more resilient in the face of a large emergency. We are coming together as a community to grapple with it since it takes a whole community approach to get there. The support we received from the Trust last year is helping us to do that in a meaningful way.”

That is Nelson Fire & Rescue Services Chief Len MacCharles who is also the Director of Emergency Management for the City of Nelson. When it comes to assisting communities with difficult situations, Chief MacCharles has been part of some of the biggest emergencies in recent memory in western Canada. As Deputy Fire Chief in Calgary, he served as Incident Commander for the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire which forced the complete evacuation of the community’s 7,000 residents and he managed the Emergency Operations Centre during Calgary’s historic flooding in 2013.

After two record breaking wildfire seasons in BC along with the devastating flooding that occurred in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary in 2018, communities across the Basin are working hard to become better prepared. At the City of Nelson, this work has not only been about getting ready for the immediate response to an event, it is also about the ability of the community to able to recover quickly. For Chief MacCharles, it’s looking at the big picture to strengthen Nelson’s resiliency in the face of an emergency, such as a wildfire at Nelson’s doorstep. He describes resiliency as a community’s ability to withstand and recover from a wildfire, flood or other significantly difficult event.

Last year, through the Trust’s Wildfire Mitigation Grants, the City of Nelson received funding to carry out a number of strategic efforts to focus on the key principles of emergency management: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery. Along with reviewing and updating emergency response plans, training key City staff, establishing a mass emergency notification system and completing risk assessments of critical infrastructure and water-supply/fire-flows, Trust funding also supported resident outreach and awareness – activities helping to support the difficult conversations residents needed to have with themselves, their families and their neighbours about what they need to do to be prepared for an emergency.

Chief MacCharles says that “a community can meet its legislative requirements related to emergency planning, but still have significant gaps that can make a world of difference in how a community is able to respond and bounce back from an event.”

“That’s where Trust came in. The Trust’s support has allowed us to go beyond the minimum requirements and begin a meaningful Emergency Management Program that will benefit the whole community, not just a plan on a shelf. The support is helping us to do more thorough work and to engage with our residents and businesses.

Distributed over two years, the funding has also allowed the City to leverage new partnerships with the Regional District of Central Kootenay and other communities like the City of Castlegar where they are working on plans around mutual assistance for disasters. And it has moved emergency management forward at the City to a place where a dedicated resource can now be put in place to take on the day-to-day work of emergency planning.

“It’s created an opportunity for us to start a conversation about what Nelson will have to do in the face an emergency; for residents to ask themselves: how will I be prepared, how will I help my neighbours, who is vulnerable in my neighbourhood and might need my help. With the Trust’s support, we are on a path to success for emergency management because we are able to take a whole community approach.”

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