In an average year, 30,000 B.C. residents need emergency aid such as lodging, food and clothing to escape from flooding, wildfires and other natural disasters.
In the year of COVID-19, those people will be able to register for the Emergency Support Services online, after successful pilot projects in the spring and summer of 2019, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says.
“Moving from an archaic paper-based system to a digital platform will ensure safe and timely access to services for those who need help during some of their hardest moments,” Farnworth announced May 5. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual delivery of Emergency Support Services is more important than ever to ensure safe physical distancing for volunteers and evacuees.”
The registration system was used at Prince George, the Regional District of Central Okanagan, Kamloops and Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, and is being expanded over the next year to go beyond registration of evacuees to providing direct emergency payments to evacuees and suppliers.
The system is vital to retaining volunteers, said David Trawn, administrator of the City of Kamloops.
“The new virtual registration system for emergency supports allows us to keep all of our ESS volunteers,” Trawn said. “The majority of these volunteers are seniors, and more than half said they would not be available if registration was paper-based and face-to-face interaction was required. It would have crippled us if we needed evacuations for floods and fire.”
For the 2020 wildfire season, the province has also launched a smartphone app to extend its communication beyond the B.C. Wildfire Service website and social media channels. The app provides mobile access to evacuation alerts and orders, a wildfire map, fire danger ratings, active fires, perimeters of active fires and those that have been declared extinguished.
The app has a “near me” function that can be selected to display information within a 50 km radius of the user’s current location, and a “report a fire” function that generates map coordinates of the user’s location.