Local Communication During Emergencies Explored
After rainfall deluged Salt Spring Island last month, causing flooding and road closures, some confusion arose as to where to look for the most up-to-date emergency information.
Salt Spring Island’s emergency coordinator Charles Nash told the Driftwood that 9-1-1 is always the go-to in case of an emergency happening in front of us. People should also be connected to their local neighbourhood POD program, as well as check official sources for information, starting with the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program, DriveBC and Salt Spring’s local authority for emergencies, the Capital Regional District (CRD).
In an emergency, the 9-1-1 dispatch service will connect callers with the right agency, whether it be fire, ambulance or the CRD’s emergency program. If phones are not working, people should contact a POD leader.
Salt Spring Island’s neighbourhood POD program has over 50 PODs and more than 325 POD leaders who distribute information from emergency services to the residents in each group and also relay information back to the CRD.
“If there is an emergency, we will also either call our POD leaders or email our POD leaders. We do have a radio system as well, in case communications go down,” Nash said.
PODs get their inspiration from orca family groupings of the same name, Nash said, who are known to be really involved with and look after one another.
Anyone new to this system can private message the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program on Facebook or email email@example.com with their street address, to find out which POD they belong to and how to get connected.
While resiliency training and meeting with PODs would normally be ongoing, Nash said those activities have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the property market surged during the pandemic, many people who moved around the island or into the community may not be aware of the program.
Nash added that the POD program is always looking for people to volunteer. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get general information during weather events such as the recent rainfall, people should check the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program (SSIEP) Facebook page as well as head to the CRD’s website (crd.bc.ca) and search for “emergency management.” For more information about how to prepare for an emergency, visit www.crd.bc.ca/service/fire-and-emergency-programs/ssi-emergency-program.
People can also sign up for emergency alerts for their area through the Alertable system. People with a smartphone can download the Alertable app and those with smart home devices like Alexa or Google Home can download the Alertable skill. There is also an option to sign up online to receive text messages, phone calls or email alerts. For more information, visit alertable.ca/signup.
DriveBC.ca is the definitive authority on roads and is updated by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), yet the website is not always completely up-to-date for Salt Spring as seen by the recent rainfall event. Nash said the SSIEP also provides updates on road openings and closures on their Facebook page and through the POD network when they get them.
The agencies and leaders involved in responding to the Nov. 14 and 15 flooding will be doing a debrief, Nash said, to look at lessons learned.
The weather event, which caused around two weeks of road closures and repairs, was also a topic of discussion at a Nov. 29 Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission (SSITC) meeting.
Salt Spring CRD director Gary Holman said as with many emergencies, communication was the most difficult issue. Information was flying around Facebook, people were moving barriers on closed roads to get through and there was other kinds of confusion.
“The emergency program was doing their best to clarify that,” and the debrief will consider communications, he said.
SSITC chair Gayle Baker said “communication wasn’t what it should be,” and suggested the topic be included at an upcoming commission meeting.
Commission member Aubrey Smith said the recent event showed that Emcon Services, the contractor for road repairs on Salt Spring, was “under-resourced” and lacked decent detour signs and barriers for road closures.
“We need to ask them why that happened and what the procedures were, what the action plan was, and to make sure that they are resourced in the right way at the depot here,” he said.
“In all the matters that I’ve dealt with with Emcon, they are under-resourced. They just don’t have the equipment to repair roads properly and they certainly don’t have the things that were needed the other day,” Smith added.
Emcon resourcing is something that would need to be worked on with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Holman said, adding that he will bring up the topic in a meeting with Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen and a staff member from MoTI in December.