Various community organizations and emergency response crews took part in a Wildfire Training Exercise at the Gyro Centre on Wednesday, Sept. 15. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Various community organizations and emergency response crews took part in a Wildfire Training Exercise at the Gyro Centre on Wednesday, Sept. 15. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District seeks feedback for evacuation plan

No formal evacuation route plan exists for the Alberni Valley

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) is looking for feedback from the public in order to develop an evacuation plan for the Alberni Valley.

The ACRD—along with partners Tseshaht First Nation, Hupacasath First Nation and the City of Port Alberni–received a grant from UBCM earlier this year to create an evacuation route plan for the Alberni Valley.

Development of the evacuation plan is already taking place, starting with an online survey for district residents.

“We want engagement from the public because we want to know what people struggle with,” said Heather Zenner, protective services manager for the ACRD. “Do they know what to take? Where to get information? If people don’t have a vehicle, that’s an impediment.”

The Evacuation Route Plan will consider all hazards including tsunami, wildfire, flooding, dam breach and chemical spill. It will identify major and alternative evacuation routes and the capacity of these routes. The plan will also consider assembly points, transportation methods for evacuees, resources required for an effective evacuation, vulnerable population considerations, choke points, and key locations.

This summer’s serious wildfire risk highlighted the need for a formal evacuation plan, said Zenner.

“In the summer when wildfires were happening in the Interior, there was a lot of focus on evacuations,” said Zenner. “I think the danger’s always been there, but this brought it into the public’s eye that wildfires could impact our community.”

Because Port Alberni is located in a valley, there are limited ways in and out of the community.

“Plus we’re surrounded by forest, so we’re definitely at risk,” added Zenner.

Earlier in September, the ACRD participated in a wildfire training exercise with representatives from different agencies in the community, including BC Ambulance Services, the SPCA, the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad, BC Transit and local First Nations.

The ACRD received funding for this exercise through a Fire Smart grant and engaged Calian Ltd. as a consultant. Calian will provide a report with recommendations for the ACRD.

“We came up with a wildfire scenario, where the wildfire is stationed between Tseshaht Market and Bell Road on Highway 4,” said Zenner. “Structures have been impacted. We’re discussing each organization’s role in what they do.”

In this wildfire scenario, said Zenner, the fire takes place in the summer when hotels are fully booked.

“We’re looking at where evacuees would go and what services we can provide them,” she said. “If the highway is closed, what does that mean for the West Coast?”

Calian Ltd. will also be helping the ACRD develop their official evaucation plan by interviewing many community stakeholder groups to understand their specific evacuation requirements. Right now, there are three public engagement sessions planned to gather feedback from residents:

– Tuesday, Oct. 19 from 1-3 p.m. at Beaver Creek Community Hall

– Tuesday, Oct. 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Echo Centre

– Thursday, Oct. 21 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Sproat Lake Community Hall.

In the meantime, the ACRD has launched an evaucation route plan survey for Alberni Valley residents. There are eight questions, and the survey is estimated to take less than five minutes. It can be found online at www.letsconnectpa.ca/are-you-ready.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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