Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Emergency Management

leave a comment »

This was another of those forums for discussion organised by Metro Vancouver for the Sustainable Region Initiative. We were supposed to discussing “what happens when a catastrophic event extends beyond municipal boundaries?” but on the whole we didn’t. There was a lot of discussion about recent disasters, and how well everybody co-operated – for example when a plane hit a building in Richmond last week, all kinds of help came in to Richmond from adjacent municipalities, which shows that, as a number of people pointed out, we are getting better than we were. But there is still a long way to go.

Johnny Carline (Metro’s CAO) pointed out that there is no regional power to co-ordinate emergency planning – not that that seems to stop them. What happens at present is that the province is the next step, and John Oakley the Senior Regional Manager did answer most of the questions. But he did say that his region does go beyond Metro. He also thought that Translink goes beyond Metro, which (except for WCE) it doesn’t- yet. Though Falcon thinks it might, the local Mayors beyond Metro have been pretty clear that their constituents are not going to pay for buses in Vancouver.

The basic message was that we cannot expect any help from the federal government any more. There’s no military close enough for one thing. But also government in general is not going to help people who should be able to look after themselves. That is why you are supposed to have a week’s supply of drinking water, non-perishable food and essential supplies (like toilet paper) in your home. And have figured out what to do when the power goes out and the phone doesn’t work. The emergency response is designed to help the members of the community that cannot be expected to look after themselves or control their own lives. The very young, the very old and the disabled, for example. That also includes people who need methadone.

Many of the people displaced by the plane crash did not even have home insurance. Since they were in a condo I found that a bit surprising: a lot of tenants cannot afford home insurance (which costs as much for just personal property as home owners are charged for their entire home) so I suppose that means that the condos are not owned by the people who live there. Home insurance does cover earthquakes, but not floods, by the way. Guess which is more likely.

A family doctor, who is also a parent concerned about school safety, pointed out that earthquakes do not kill people. Bad buildings do. And 311 schools are still at high risk in a moderate to severe earthquake. Local school boards are in no hurry to fix these buildings and bring them up to standard, as it would raise property taxes. No one talked about how safe community centres were, but they will play an important role in any major disaster.

Someone else doubted the wisdom of putting the replacement for St Paul’s Hospital on False Creek Flats which is likely to be flooded in almost any major disaster scenario. But of course Providence Health does not report to the City or the Region. It talks to the Ministry of Health, and they don’t seem to talk to anyone else.

There was also quite a lot of concern about what happens during the Olympics – as we will be already stretched at that point so another event on top will really test things. There were soothing noises, but no specifics. Mayor Lois Jackson of Delta was there as Metro Chair, but she obviously enjoys the role of taking charge during a disaster. As she herself pointed out, it was Rudy Giuliani who took over on 9/11. She made it clear that it is the Mayor who runs things when there is a flood or an earthquake.

I cannot resist retelling my favourite disaster response story. It happened in Victoria during a sudden huge snow storm a few Christmases ago. The Municipality of Oak Bay had the only snow plough in Greater Victoria. It also has a high proportion of elderly residents who might need to get to a hospital. So out came the plough and cleared the main street of Oak Bay so the ambulances could get through, but the hospital is actually in the City of Victoria. And the snow plough turned around at the municipal boundary and went back to its shed. And Oak Bay refused to lend it to Victoria to get the job completed.

When I worked on the citiesPLUS plan, I was very impressed by the then GVRD Emergency Planner, who told us about the importance of not building on flood plains or unstable slopes, which seemed like good advice to me. Which makes me wonder about places like Richmond and the North Shore. Sometimes, the municipality may not be the right level to plan for these things. But at least the emergency responders can now talk to each other – so the fact that every one of the 21 municipalities has its own fire brigade and police arrangement may now be of less concern. Although Doug Kelsey told an interesting yarn about the police forces that cover WCE arguing over jurisdiction – and that includes railway police as well as different local forces.

But overall I got the sense that there will only be as much regional cooperation as the Mayors deem necessary – and anyway most of us will simply be told to stay put, stay off the emergency response routes and be sure we have enough supplies for 72 hours – or was that a week? At least we will be told if we remembered to buy fresh batteries or have a wind up radio.

You do have a wind up radio, don’t you?

Written by Stephen Rees

October 25, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: