At the core of the City of Campbell River’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is a group working to keep things running and to answer any questions people may have.
An Emergency Operations Centre is typically set up to help coordinate various branches of emergency response. They usually are in place to respond to natural disasters like fires, floods or other damaging events that can cause chaos in communities. Usually, they involve fire departments, ambulance and police, as well as search and rescue and are involved in ensuring people can escape or shelter safely in these situations. They often run 24/7 until the crisis is abated.
This one is a little bit different.
“This is a very unique and, as people have said previously, unprecedented situation,” said City of Campbell River manager Deborah Sargent. “It is unique, but in terms of one of the most important roles of the EOC — coordinating — it is not unique because we have to coordinate all the resources that we have in hand to address the situation.”
The COVID-19 EOC was established on March 20, and was given three goals: to coordinate the city’s response to COVID-19, to identify and maintain critical services and to provide public information about the crisis. It is staffed by a group of city employees and managers who are working to maintain continuity and communications through the pandemic. The call centre was set up as a result of the EOC, but is run independently.
“Our role as a city EOC is to help our citizens understand the impact of the COVID-19 situation locally and to understand how it impacts services that they are familiar with receiving on a regular basis,” Sargent explained. “It’s also our role, because it’s such a unique situation, to determine as we look at business continuity, to also look at our own financial planning as a city in terms of how all of the projects and services that we normally provide will be impacted.”
EOCs are part of the B.C. Emergency Response Management System. They are put in place by various levels of government to help coordinate the response within individual jurisdictions. The city’s centre can coordinate with other neighbouring communities like the Strathcona Regional District, and it can help centres at higher levels like the provincial EOC. It helps provide a distinct message and goal to emergency response within the community, instead of a haphazard and confused response.
“If people are [usually] calling in typically to our many facilities across the city, now they’re calling in to a central call area and being provided information relevant to the facility that they would be normally speaking directly to,” she said. “It also allows us to coordinate amongst other local government, with the SRD, with the provincial government.”
Services include things like water, waste pickup building and planning and others. Part of the EOC’s mandate is to ensure the business of the city continues as well, which includes things like projects and services that it has committed to as part of its financial and strategic planning.
City employees are not immune to the COVID-19 virus, however, and the EOC has been working quickly to transition to a work-from-home environment. Operators are able to take calls from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., Sargent said, and the hours of the EOC reflect that.
“It has been a learning process for all of us. The whole purpose to this was to mitigate the community spread, we’re very careful about ensuring that we follow all of the community health protocols,” she said.
“I think the challenges we are facing are the same as the ones our community faces. There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of how long our current situation will last and what will transpire within our community I think we’re all searching for the best information possible,” she added.
UPDATE MARCH, 2021: The call centre is no longer operational, any inquiries can be made to City Hall’s general number: 250-286-5700.