Oak Bay’s disaster plan sets standard

Oak Bay Block Watch co-ordinator Matt Rutherford and emergency preparedness co-ordinator Sonja Ruthe

Oak Bay Block Watch co-ordinator Matt Rutherford and emergency preparedness co-ordinator Sonja Ruthe

Emergency program crew has community well-prepared in the event of a natural disaster

If disaster strikes, Oak Bay is ready to roll.

The municipality, known more for seniors than saviours, hopes the United Nations will make it Canada’s second role-model community, a UN designation for cities that take a leading position in disaster risk reduction.

“We were extremely impressed with Oak Bay and the accomplishments already made there,” said Melissa Fougere, who is Red Cross Canada’s disaster management co-ordinator in Kingston, Ont. “It is important that your leaders are working for the community – and it shows how tight-knit Oak Bay is.”

Here taking Royal Roads University’s masters program in disaster and emergency management, Fougere and nine others completed an assessment of Oak Bay. Included in the report was a nomination the municipality will send off to the UN in Geneva.

The student group, which included firefighters, a critical-care nurse, members of the military and government public safety staff, assessed the municipality’s adherence to 10 essential elements listed on the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

Based on the checklist, which includes assigning a budget for disaster relief, protecting ecosystems and natural buffers, and preparing risk assessments, Oak Bay passed with flying colours.

“For the community it shows the resiliency level and shows how hard they are working,” Fougere said. “It is a big accomplishment …”

The rating is something residents can be proud of and shows Oak Bay is ready in case something happens, she added.

To date, the only other municipality in Canada awarded role model status is North Vancouver.

Oak Bay Deputy Fire Chief Dave Cockle, who is also emergency program co-ordinator for the municipality, will fine-tune the nomination before sending it and a letter from Mayor Christopher Causton to the UN.

“This is a great advantage to us to have a group of emergency managers and future emergency managers (combining to) bring new ideas to the district,” Cockle said. The key to preparedness, he added, is to excel at the strategies included on the role model checklist for disaster emergency management.

Cockle said the likelihood of a tsunami affecting Oak Bay to the extent northern Japan was devastated in March is remote. He stressed, however, that Vancouver Island is in an earthquake zone and has frequent rainstorms and windstorms.

“We live in an area that is at risk for natural disaster – we have to be prepared for that. We are doing a very good job of identifying the risks to our residents and bringing those risks to the forefront,” he said.

“We use an all-risk approach. If you plan for an earthquake, you are going to survive anything else that could or may occur.”

While attaining the role model designation is still just a hope, Fougere said Oak Bay should be able to reach that status without a problem.

“Oak Bay is a beautiful community. It has a very strong community interaction and is very prepared for emergency management,” she said. “(We) were impressed with the council and municipal staff and see the level of engagement with the volunteers and community was fantastic.”

Oak Bay Coun. Tara Ney has followed the progress of the application.

“This is an opportunity to focus on initiatives that will allow us to effectively adapt to climate change. It has implications on heritage, ecosystems, land use and building codes,” she said, noting there is still much work to be done to round the program into shape.

“Council intends to continue supporting the Emergency Response Program so that we are in top form to ensure the safety of our citizens in responding to any emergency.”

editor@oakbaynews.com

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