Nelson’s fire chief Len MacCharles addressed council about emergency management on Sept. 4. Photo: City of Nelson council meeting video screen capture

Nelson’s fire chief Len MacCharles addressed council about emergency management on Sept. 4. Photo: City of Nelson council meeting video screen capture

Nelson to set up emergency management centre

Fire chief Len MacCharles will write a plan and set up an office

First in a series of articles about how Nelson is preparing for the possibility of a wildfire in the city

Nelson’s fire chief Len MacCharles says nobody will be left behind if Nelson has to be evacuated due to a wildfire in some future smoky summer.

He addresses that assurance especially to people in the hospital, people in seniors homes, people with no car and people with mobility or health problems.

“If you don’t have a car, talk to your neighbour, friends, or family, in advance. Ask if you can go with them. If there are people with no alternative, we will be there. We won’t leave anybody behind. But to do that effectively we need the people who can take care of themselves to take care of themselves.”

MacCharles urges those people, the self-sufficient ones, to have their own personal evacuation plan that includes 72-hour emergency kit. He also wants them to get a FireSmart inspection of their home.

He said the Interior Health Authority has a good evacuation plan for the hospital and its other facilities and their staff are trained in it.

New emergency management agency

MacCharles, in addition to his fire department job, will be the head of Nelson’s new emergency management centre, and is the only staff member working on the program so far.

At its Sept. 4 meeting council passed third reading of a bylaw that will set up the Nelson Emergency Management Program.

Until now the city has relied on the emergency management capacities of the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) but, following a 2015 assessment report by MacCharles, the city decided to create its own plan, although still in co-operation with its rural neighbours.

Evacuation: managing the challenges

City council hired MacCharles as fire chief about four years ago partly because of his experience as head of Calgary Emergency Management Agency during the 2013 floods and as incident commander for many incidents including the wildfire that destroyed much of Slave Lake, Alta., in 2011.

“I have been involved in many evacuations, ranging from blocks to communities to the one in Calgary where we evacuated 80,000 people. It never goes smoothly and the more pre-planning you can do, the more organizing leading up to it, that pays huge dividends in minimizing the chaos,” MacCharles told the Star.

Even though the spectre of an evacuation due to wildfire is at the forefront of Nelson residents’ minds, MacCharles said an emergency management plan will deal with a variety of possible risks.

Preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery

His first step will be a hazard risk and vulnerability analysis.

“This is where you explore all the possible hazards that Nelson could face, from wildfire to severe weather to hazardous materials releases, then establish the likelihood and the consequence,” he said. “When you establish the likelihood and the consequence of a hazard, that equals your risk. That is the easy part.”

The harder part is creating plans for each identified risk, focusing on four components: preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery.

Preparation includes setting up systems of communication to be used when an incident is escalating, and making the public aware of them in advance.

“You need to communicate with everyone, all residents and businesses of Nelson.”

The fourth component, recovery, is a special challenge, MacCharles said.

“Governments struggle with recovery. Look at any large scale incident that has taken place. Where things fall down is during recovery. Usually it is long and drawn out, and we have already used up lots of resources and energy in the response mode. Recovery starts very early and can go on for months or years. There are still people who tear up when they talk about their experience in Fort McMurray.”

Related:

• FireSmart assessment an eye-opener for Nelson homeowner

• Develop a personal wildfire plan, Nelson fire chief says

Funding and a five-year plan

Recently the city applied for and received $172,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust and the Union of B.C. Municipalities to cover two years of setting up the emergency plan and office. MacCharles says it will take five years to set up a full emergency management program, including doing the hazard risk analyses, writing the management plan, setting up various systems in conjunction with the RDCK, and establishing the office.

Public expectations have changed

MacCharles said the public has high expectations that the city will serve them well in an emergency.

“The last few summers have woken people up, really driven home that we have things at play including climate change. The possibility of a wildfire impacting Nelson is very high, and people have expectations that the city is doing what it needs to do.”

And he said the public’s expectations of government have changed.

“Going back 15 years, the public was more accepting that the local authority would focus first on resolving emergency issues, and then look after their needs. Now, people are not as prepared to wait to have their needs met and so the local authority needs to do the best we can to meet those expectations. This bylaw is one of those ways of getting to meet more of those by more people.”

Related: Wildfire: Nelson most endangered of BC towns over 10,000, expert says



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Group fitness classes are on hold at the Nelson and District Community Complex. File photo
Group fitness classes cancelled at Nelson, Salmo rec centres

Parking enforcement is also coming to the Nelson and District Community Complex

Nearly 4,000 magazine are available to be read digitally through the Nelson Public Library. Photo: Tracey Therrien
CHECK THIS OUT: The internet before the internet

From Avi Silberstein at the Nelson library

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Most Read