Emergency preparedness week - Make your municipal disaster recovery plan withstand the wrath of Mother Nature

Emergency preparedness week - Make your municipal disaster recovery plan withstand the wrath of Mother Nature

May 11 2016


During Emergency Preparedness Week (May 1 – 7, 2016), Mother Nature reminded us whose boss in Fort McMurray. With each reminder, the nation reviews their own disaster response plans from the sidelines.  

Whether you are the head of a company, or head of your household, you will face an emergency of some sort at some point.  How you handle that emergency and the speed of your recovery depends on how well you plan and execute that plan when the time comes. 

The 1, 2, 3 to any potential disaster?
1. Know your risk.
2. Make a Plan
3. Prepare a Kit

If you watch the news or use the internet, you are familiar with the overwhelming devastation of Fort McMurray and the exemplary example the people of Alberta are showcasing to the world. 

When an emergency affects an entire city, it is the local governing body that bares the burden of executing a disaster plan.  Take the City of Calgary, and surrounding areas during the flooding of 2013, or the downtown power outage of 2014. Even today, they are stepping up for the fire evacuees in Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo.

Here in Kelowna, we can relate to the fire experience albeit on a smaller scale. The Okanagan Mountain Park Fire of 2003, fueled by windy weather, quickly became a firestorm and before we knew it, 27,000 residents were on the move with little more than what they were wearing and a few boxes of mementos. The OKMP fire ravaged 250 square km, destroyed 239 homes and left an emotional scar so raw that even after 13 years, the slightest showing of unexplained smoke in the hills blows up the 911 call line and cigarette butts exiting vehicle windows brings instant angry introduction of local residents often in the form of road rage and has prompted the BC government to consider impounding offending vehicles. 

We were fortunate in comparison to the 2,400 buildings currently lost in Fort McMurray. Fortunate that our fire didn’t change direction and head for the City. Fortunate that there were several routes in which to escape and many residents not under evacuation to jump in and help those that were. Fortunate that when all was said and done, we still had the buildings that employed us, jobs to go to, infrastructure, schools and for the most part, normal daily lives. 

Back to Fort McMurray – evacuation ordered and only two directions to flee, but not to friends across town - 80,000 people to get out of town. The evacuation path was 400 km of highway with little services. Apocalyptic images of the escape route circulated worldwide.  As of this morning, news reported there is no water, gas or electricity in the city. 

The good news is, the emergency plan in place worked. No lives have been lost. Hospital staff successfully co-ordinated their emergency evacuation of 100 patients, including nine newborn babies and recovering mothers. WestJet sent a plane and transported patients to an Edmonton tarmac of awaiting ambulances to take them to area hospitals.  All this before staff could attend to or join their own families.

The Red Cross is delivering information at top speed. Media, although showcasing the devastation, is equally publishing helpful information like where to go, what to do, where to find services, how to get help.  Even Canadian North airlines stepped in and waived pet transportation policy to fly people and pets to safety.

Businesses and individuals came up with their own plans to help from delivering gas and water to stranded motorists to offering up free meals and services to evacuees. Cross province businesses, like Costco,  began to take donations for the Red Cross to help with the financial impact this disaster is causing.

We reached out to a few of our clients in the affected area and the common response was that they were scheduling a review of their disaster relief plans.  Learn how to develop disaster recovery strategies as well as write a disaster recovery plan. From a tech perspective, an effective IT plan can mean the difference of being able to set up mobile operations or not.  The municipal IT department needs to be prepared for disaster with off-site back up centres and cloud software solutions considered.

Is your municipality prepared? 


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