What is the role of city council during a natural disaster?

It was a scenario that shocked Marianne Alto into remembering that as an elected official, she’s responsible for the community.

It was a scenario that shocked Marianne Alto into remembering that as an elected official, she’s not only responsible for the well-being of her family, but also the community.

In 2011, Alto was faced with the difficult decision of what to do during a major catastrophic event in Victoria. Alto, along with several other councillors from municipalities across the region, convened to figure out what the next steps were.

First, she called her family to ensure they were safe. Then, she moved on to the more difficult responsibility of finding out the extent of the damage and what services and items residents needed. Next, mayor and councillors came together to make decisions with the best information available.

While this scenario was part of a workshop through a regional emergency management agency and not an actual event, it shocked Alto into remembering her role as a city councillor, should a catastrophic natural event ever hit Victoria.

“Having that experience, even though we all knew it was artificial, it really brought home that in addition to what you would usually prepare for as an individual and with your family, as an elected person, you also have responsibilities to the larger community,” said Alto, adding the day-long experience was very powerful.

“As a locally-elected person, sometimes you lose sight of that sense of obviously day-to-day, I make decisions that affect people’s lives, but in an emergency situation like that, it really comes home that you have a responsibility to really be a leader and make decisions that will affect people in general and in immediate and urgent situations.”

Victoria fire chief Paul Bruce recently reinforced what council and the mayor’s role would be in the event of a natural disaster, as part of the city’s emergency plan.

The plan can be activated during significant wind and winter storms, floods, fires or earthquakes. In more significant events, such as a major earthquake or tsunami, mayor or council are able to declare a state of local emergency, which would have to be accepted by the province.

During a state of local emergency, mayor and council have the ability to use land or personal property to reduce the effects of an emergency or disaster, control or prohibit travel, order an evacuation of both people and livestock, or fix price for or ration food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical supplies and other essential supplies.

Coun. Ben Isitt said an emergency preparedness plan for the city is well overdue.

“Hopefully we have the staff in place so it can happen,” he said, noting the recent tug boat that ran a ground near Bella Bella recently. “The fact is that federal and provincial regulators have exposed the coast to unreasonable and unacceptable risk . . . As soon as elected officials know their role and let the public know, the better.”

There will be a table top exercise next month for council to clarify roles in the event of an emergency or disaster. However, Coun. Geoff Young said public education has to continue to keep this topic at the top of people’s minds.

“The biggest issue is keeping people interested in emergency preparedness when it’s not time for a disaster or emergency,” he said.

Some councillors also suggested the idea of providing households with an empty emergency preparedness box (similar to blue recycle boxes) to remind people to buy supplies — an idea Mayor Lisa Helps praised.

“It will hopefully be a trigger that’s really concrete and proactive. I think it’s definitely something we should do. It’s tangible, people can touch it,” she said.

This week marked Shake Out week, which teaches participants to stop, drop and cover during an earthquake.

 

 

Just Posted

Victoria-Saanich amalgamation discussions won’t be open to the public

The upcoming citizens’ assembly meetings will be held in camera

Red-tailed hawk’s own bill is killing him

‘Most birds with this syndrome will starve to death without treatment’

Outdoor cats one of the biggest causes of wildlife injuries, says Wild ARC

Spring a vulnerable time for fledlings, small mammals

Royals face Blazers to kickoff WHL playoffs

Series opens Friday, March 22 at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre

Search and rescue volunteers work to keep waterways safe

Over 1,000 volunteers help keep mariners safe; headquarters based in Sooke

Five highlights in the 2019 federal budget

Latest budget includes a sprinkling of money for voters across a wide spectrum

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of March 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: When do you think the next major earthquake will hit Vancouver Island?

According to seismologists, Vancouver Island is overdue for a magnitude 7 earthquake.… Continue reading

Dead sea lion discovered on Hornby Island shoreline

Reports indicate animal was shot in the head

Celina Caesar-Chavannes quits Liberal caucus, sits as independent MP

The Whitby, Ont., MP has been a vocal supporter of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott

Island SPCA overwhelmed by 45 cats taken from Comox Valley property

Many of the cats will be transferred to branches in Nanaimo and Victoria

Woman punched on the sidelines of B.C. soccer game

Both involved were watching the U21 game in West Vancouver from the sidelines when things got heated

Paramedic staff shortage at critical level: B.C. union

A number of units were out of service due to lack of staffing in Lower Mainland, union says

B.C. dairy farmers say federal budget not enough to cut losses from USMCA

Concerns raised over vague details, funding access and impacts on growth

Most Read