The Qualicum Beach Fire Hall is now easing into operation amid much talk about emergency preparation

Money will help communities work together on emergency preparedness

New agreement puts some structure to what’s been happening for years

During fire prevention week and just in time for the Great B.C. ShakeOut drill Oct. 15, local governments are taking a regional approach to emergency planning.

“What affects us is going to affect them and vice versa,” said Qualicum Beach Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer of the town’s work with Parksville and the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN).

Before council agreed to a new Regional Emergency Resource Agreement with the neighbouring municipal governments at their Oct. 5 meeting, Luchtmeijer explained the importance of working together, whether that’s cooperation between countries, B.C. and Washington state, or towns: “we look at surrounding communities for help.”

The new agreement puts a more formal structure on ongoing work, with each of the three partners contributing $14,000 in the first year — increasing to $22,000 in the fifth and final year — to fund a volunteer coordinator and the already active, volunteer driven emergency social services and communications teams.

Oceanside Emergency Social Services will receive $4,500 a year, Oceanside Emergency Communications will receive $1,500, and $36,000 (increasing to $60,000 a year) will go to funding the coordinator.

The coordinator/administrator work will be done by Parksville’s emergency program coordinator (currently Aaron Dawson), providing funds and acting as the point of contact for the volunteer groups.

“Parties consider it to be of mutual benefit to provide financial and capital support and share these resources for response to emergency incidents within the jurisdictions…” says the agreement.

After many emergency preparation events Luchtmeijer said a key he’s learned is “if you’re going to make an emergency plan, make it understandable for everybody because in a crisis, people are confused, people need help and it has to be simple and concise.”

He said at one Union of B.C. Municipalities convention discussion for example, “the message was clear, don’t mess with big words, make it easy to understand.”

Emergency Management B.C. is working on a plan for a catastrophic earthquake which was supposed to be done for 2014, and is now scheduled for 2017, “so we’re hoping the catastrophic earthquake isn’t soon,” he said.

The province is also “working on a public awareness system,” since people mostly rely on the U.S. Geological Survey’s notifications despite there being local resources.

Emergency preparation has been a hot local topic recently between provincial Fire Prevention Week Oct. 4-10, the Oct. 15 ShakeOut, the RDN’s recent Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness Program exercises in Coombs, and the opening of Qualicum Beach’s new fire hall, with an open house Nov. 7.

Said Coun. Neil Horner, who attended the Coombs exercises: “The biggest takeaway I got from this is you guys can all forget about 72 hours — you’re going to have to wait to get help, because if it’s a big event it could be a lot longer than that. You should be able to look after yourself for a week or longer.”

For more on the ShakeOut visit www.shakeoutbc.ca, for more on emergency preparation in general check with your municipality, fire department or visit www.pep.bc.ca and watch the Qualicum Beach Fire Department’s Facebook page for details on the open house.

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