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Archive for October 2014

Disaster Alert: We’re not ready…yet

It seems like there’s daily news about natural disasters, major emergencies and other crisis situations around the world. It’s hard to measure whether the number of disasters has increased, or if we’re just more aware about what’s going on thanks to communication technology connecting us faster and more personally through social networks. The result is a growing awareness of the impacts and recovery challenges that stem from catastrophic events. This increased awareness leads to opportunities to focus on what the risks are in our communities, how well we are prepared to manage if disaster strikes, and what the role is for local government.

No one can be fully prepared for a catastrophic event, but as we learn in the summer edition of Exchange, there are measures that can help move us towards an increasingly improved position to respond effectively and support recovery. Part of this is through better planning and enhanced preparedness. In Catastrophic Events: We’re not ready…yet, recent studies show that there’s work to be done to improve preparedness strategies. In response, Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC) is leading a number of initiatives to work with local and regional governments and First Nations to identify gaps and develop practical solutions. Their approach recognizes the importance of working together – there are multiple agencies and governments involved in emergencies, and individual citizens share a responsibility for personal preparedness. It’s also alarming to realize that the financial impact of a major catastrophe would be devastating due to a current lack of sufficient insurance coverage, and the need to ensure citizens understand that they need their own insurance as the government won’t be paying for everything.

The stories shared in Response Readiness for Small Communities demonstrate that practical solutions are possible, even in small communities with limited resources. The work being done in the District of Sparwood and at the Village of Queen Charlotte showcase how leveraging experience and the resources available through EMBC and the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) can provide staff with the training and assistance they need to be successful when in emergency response mode. I was also moved and impressed by the incredible work being done in High River to recover from the devastation of last year’s flood that involved evacuating the entire town and flood damage to 70% of the community. The power of people working together, sharing expertise and focusing on a shared goal to recover as a community and support each other individually is inspiring.

All of the shared stories also reinforce the importance of effective communication. With my background in crisis communications, in my role teaching the JIBC Information Officer, and in the work I do to develop crisis communications strategies and training, I have witnessed both the success of effective communication in a crisis and the damage wrought by poor communication. With the advent of social media and the increase in community expectations to be kept informed and engaged in any crisis situation, the demands and requirements on local governments will continue to grow. A crisis communication plan along with trained Information Officers and communication teams have become an imperative. It’s equally important to emphasize that this communication starts at the preparedness stage, becomes intense in the midst of the crisis event, and continues throughout the recovery process.

It’s enlightening and reassuring to hear how communities are taking the initiative to keep emergency management and personal preparedness on everyone’s radar – including Councils and Boards, staff and community members. Learning from each other and leveraging the resources available are key to creating the tools needed to assist and support communities when dealing with an emergency, or worse, a catastrophic event. Many thanks to everyone for sharing their stories and highlighting the resources available to support emergency management.