(AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Lack of communication deemed a hole in ACRD’s emergency planning

ACRD hears six recommendations from researcher to improve emergency messaging

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) will be working on its communication when it comes to emergencies in the Alberni Valley.

As part of her Masters program at Royal Roads University, ACRD lands and resources coordinator Heather Zenner took on a research project last year looking at how the ACRD can better engage with Alberni Valley residents when it comes to emergency planning and preparedness.

As part of her project, she conducted a resident survey, which had 228 responses, and hosted a World Cafe session that brought together members from various organizations and agencies in the Alberni Valley. Her research had four findings, she told the ACRD board on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

She noted that residents have a strong understanding of personal emergency preparedness, although this has not translated into residents actually being prepared.

“People understand that we live in an isolated community with only one way in and one way out…but that hasn’t translated into people actually getting their emergency supplies together,” Zenner said on Wednesday.

In her survey, only 36 percent of residents indicated that they have emergency supplies, while only 13 percent indicated that they were “very prepared” to evaucate if required to. The number one reason given for this was “laziness,” said Zenner.

Her second finding was was that the ACRD doesn’t have much “credibility” when it comes to emergencies. The regional district’s protective services manager position has been vacant for the last year, although the ACRD is currently recruiting for the position.

“Without that position, the credibility of the regional district is in question,” said Zenner.

She also noted that the ACRD has not offered much communication to the public during past emergencies, with residents going to local media to get information, instead.

Just two years ago, Alberni Valley residents were woken up at 3 a.m. by tsunami sirens. In the days following the evacuation, residents were critical about a lack of communication from city and regional district officials.

READ MORE: Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

READ MORE: City of Port Alberni “dropped the ball” in communicating tsunami warning on social media

Zenner’s third finding was a need for collaboration, while the fourth was coordination of volunteers. According to Zenner, 47 percent of respondents said they would be interested in volunteering in an emergency.

Her report also provided six recommendations.

— Supporting volunteer organizations and individual volunteers. Zenner suggested developing an organizational chart showing what agencies exist, identifying what services they offer, and looking at where volunteer opportunities exist.

— Developing a communications strategy.

— Broadening engagement from one to many. “I think it’s risky if we have all of our information only from the protective services manager,” said Zenner. “If that person leaves, there’s a gap.” She proposed developing an emergency preparedness package, which will be provided to anyone in the ACRD who applies for a building permit.

— Implementing a mass notification system.

— Developing an emergency information brochure for Alberni Valley residents. The current brochure—which applies to tsunamis only—is out of date.

— Developing an emergency program training strategy to help new ACRD employees understand the emergency program, and developing a biannual training exercise for community stakeholders, volunteers and employees.

These six recommendations will be considered after a new protective services manager has been hired, said Zenner. According to ACRD CAO Doug Holmes, the competition for a new manager closes on Friday, Jan. 31, and the new manager will be announced shortly afterward.

Zenner’s full report can be found online at www.acrd.bc.ca/emergency-preparedness.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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