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Alberni Valley prepares for wildfire emergency

Community stakeholders discuss wildfire response during tabletop exercise
Vanessa Howard of Calian Ltd. leads a tabletop exercise at the Alberni Athletic Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 13. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Preparing for a wildfire emergency requires a multi-pronged approach from many different community partners, which is why the Alberni Valley hosted a tabletop exercise last week to practice a wildfire response.

The discussion-based session, held at the Alberni Athletic Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 13 and moderated by Calian Ltd., enabled participants to meet and discuss their roles in a simulated emergency response to a wildfire scenario.

The exercise was funded by a FireSmart grant that was provided to the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD), the City of Port Alberni, Hupacasath First Nation and Tseshaht First Nation. The objective, said ACRD FireSmart coordinator Randy Thoen, is to bring together all of the region’s stakeholders so they can practice coordinating an emergency response. Stakeholders included first responders, search and rescue agencies, local government representatives, First Nations and even private landowners and tenure holders, like Mosaic Forest Management.

Some people weren’t able to attend due to inclement weather, said Thoen, but there were 17 different stakeholders represented at the table.

“We go through an exercise where we’ve created a scenario that’s going to involve more than one agency,” Thoen said. “We go through the process of responding to that scenario. The main purpose is to provide an opportunity for face-to-face interaction, so we get a good idea of what everyone brings to the table.”

This exercise involved a wildfire near Sezai Road, which led to a tactical evacuation in the area. A tactical evacuation is an evacuation that requires immediate action, which little warning or preparation. A strategic evacuation, in contrast, allows time for formal alerts and orders to be issued.

The exercise also included a pre-exercise and post-exercise survey, after which participants received a summary report with recommendations.

“That tells us what we need to improve and the things we did really well,” said Thoen. “We were able to put together a good understanding of what each person can bring to the table.”

Thoen says the exercise allows stakeholders to understand what constraints they have and what roles and responsibilities they will play in a real-life emergency situation. One of the region’s greatest strengths, he added, is its automatic aid relationship between various agencies.

“They all integrate really well together,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is going to be the communication piece.”

The ACRD applies for grant funding through FireSmart every year, with the goal of developing wildfire resilience in the community. Grant funding provides things like public education, home assessments and rebates, local infrastructure assessments and staff training.

The FireSmart funding also allowed the ACRD to develop its first wildfire prevention plan for the Alberni Valley back in 2010. The plan was recently updated to include Bamfield, and will soon be upgraded again to include the Long Beach area.

“It started locally, but we’ve reached out further,” said Thoen.

Along with the region’s official evacuation route, this will be the road map for future plans, said Thoen.

This was the second tabletop exercise that the region has hosted in the last two years, and Thoen says more will take place in the future.

“We all recognize the value of a regional, collective approach to this work, rather than trying to go it alone,” he said. “The feedback we received is excellent, and we’re looking forward to being able to build on that next year.”

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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