The Strathcona Regional District will be holding a series of virtual focus groups for Cortes Islanders to help them understand the proposed Cortes Island Evacuation Plan.
SRD Protective Services Coordinator Shaun Koopman said that the focus groups are part of an ongoing process to update the island’s emergency evacuation plan. The process started with an update to the island’s fire protection plan. The evacuation plan is an open-ended and gives islanders a framework as to how a large-scale evacuation would take place. This event is highly unlikely, but Koopman said his job is to prepare for worst case scenarios.
”The most likely evacuation scenario on Cortes Island or even Campbell River is a household or a neighbourhood,” he said. “That’s still nothing to scoff at, whenever anybody gets displaced it’s a tragedy. But that’s handled in house by the fire department and emergency support services. Yes we’ll activate an emergency operations centre, but it’s something that we deal with all the time.
“What is one step further?” he continues. “What if it’s the whole evacuation zone? What if it’s the whole entire island? What if it’s an evacuation that’s triggered and then a meteor strikes the ferry on the same day and you can’t get everybody off those ferries? They’re very unlikely scenarios, but they’re also very consequential scenarios.”
The plan is not, therefore, for every emergency. It is only for the highest consequence emergencies that locally-based resources can’t handle on their own. Many emergencies would not need an evacuation. Things like a windstorm or a hazardous materials emergency would actually be worsened with an island-wide evacuation.
“It’s for First Responders, Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) personnel and the public about how an evacuation will work,” Koopman said. “It doesn’t get very prescriptive or specific. They have to be designed to be high level, flexible, adaptable.
“I don’t want people to be reading the plan and thinking the first step is that they have to run down to the beach and Coast Guard is going to go get them,” he added. “That’s a very long way away down the chain of how bad the event could possibly get.”
The plan, which is still considered a draft, divides the island into sections, each with a muster point at a central location. People living within those areas are to meet at the muster point and be directed from there by the EOC. After that, evacuation can take place in different ways, depending on the severity of the issue. It also works as a framework for volunteers who would come help with the evacuation work so that they can familiarize themselves with the local environment and be as effective as possible.
“It’s important that any plan gets written for somebody that’s familiar with the area. Two years ago I got to go to the Peace River Regional District to help them out for 10 days with the landslide. The emergency management system is all the same, but when they handed me their evacuation plan, I was easily able to establish myself within the community’s context and figure out the nature of the community,” he said. “as somebody who’s never been to Dawson Creek or anywhere close to there in my life, to go in there and do the best that I could.”
The SRD sent out a survey in the summer to Cortes Island addresses, with one question asking whether people would like to participate in a further focus group. Those who answered ‘yes’ were contacted by Koopman, and dates were arranged to fit the schedules of those involved. Koopman planned on having 10 participants in each group, and most are still under that number. He has sent out an open invitation to those who would like to participate in the focus groups.
“Some people said they weren’t comfortable with Zoom or discussing things in a group session, so I’ll email the plan and call them so we can go through it one on one,” Koopman said.
Dates for the meetings are:
Wednesday, Dec. 9 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 11 9:00-10:30 a.m.
Friday, Dec. 11 2:00-3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 15 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Cortes Islanders interested in participating can contact Koopman at SKoopman@srd.ca.