A small but vocal crowd attended a Community Update Meeting in Ashcroft last week. The Village provided updates on how it was improving its response to emergencies, but some members of the public were still doubtful that enough was being done. Image Credit: Wendy Coomber/The Journal

A small but vocal crowd attended a Community Update Meeting in Ashcroft last week. The Village provided updates on how it was improving its response to emergencies, but some members of the public were still doubtful that enough was being done. Image Credit: Wendy Coomber/The Journal

Emergency preparedness questioned

Residents raise issues at public forum

Wildfires and emergencies are still at the forefront of concerns by many Ashcroft residents as much of the Sept. 20 Community Update meeting was used to express that.

Mayor Jack Jeyes addressed the topic to the 32 members of the public who attended the meeting in the community hall, giving an update on things that the Village had done to be better prepared for any future emergencies.

But it wasn’t enough for some of the audience who wanted more planning and a faster response.

He first noted that the Village has had re-usable signs made that can be filled out with temporary info such as directions to an emergency information centre.

Replying to a question about where the signs would be placed, he said it would depend on the emergency. And the centre would probably be at the Village Office—unless the Village had to evacuate or that part of town was off-limits for some reason.

“We are also committed to having a public meeting within 72 hours (of an emergency),” he said, “to hopefully dispel rumours and misinformation.

Council, he said, was discussing ways to “get information out in this modern age.”

Jeyes said Facebook would probably play in their communications plan, but any plan would have to be fluid enough to accommodate a changing situation. The Village has also invested in a SAT phone in case phone lines are compromised again.

“Seventy-two hours is ridiculous!” said audience member Monty Downs. “Information should be out sooner and at set times so people know when to expect it.”

Sandy Agatiello, who held her own public meeting during the wildfire emergency, stated that Salt Spring Island had everyone registered online so they could receive messages in the event of an emergency.

“I thought you were registering people,” Jeyes told her.

“No, the group was going to be in partnership with Village,” she said, putting together a community plan with names of people who can help with specific things.”

Cindy Skakun wanted to know why the town’s emergency plan hadn’t been revised in 10 years and whether it was possible to have council members trained in emergency protocol.

Jeyes answered that the cover page may have an old date on it, but the plan itself is constantly updated. “And we have people fully trained in Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) protocol.”

For the most part, he said, the EOC will be outside of the community affected, away from the emergency itself. The town’s CAO Michelle Allen is the local EOC director, and she was giving out information.

Skakun noted that the power outage and lack of cell phones should have been enough to implement an EOC in Ashcroft.

Fear and panic among the town’s residents, combined with the nearby fires and the lack of information should have been enough constitute an emergency, argued Downs.

He felt it was completely inadequate to be directed to posters slapped on an empty building. He says he stayed away from the fire hall where information was being distributed because everyone there was busy putting out fires.

“The fire hall was the obvious place to go for information,” said Jeyes.

“No one puts their emergency centre in a busy operations centre,” replied Downs.

Jeyes said the Village and council should participate in “tabletop exercises” every year, where multiple emergency scenarios are presented and everyone has one or more jobs to complete. It’s the best way they have of preparing for unexpected emergencies, he said.

“It’s not sufficient,” said Downs, “if the public can’t see the results” of such exercises.

“We need more ways of getting information out,” added Agatiello.

“We have a plan and it was carried out,” said Jeyes, agreeing that “it needs some amending. The communication portion needs work.”

“I thought the Village would have done something by now,” Agatiello said after the meeting. “I know it won’t happen overnight, but can we get started on it?”

She said after the fires ripped through Ashcroft “people were anxious, frustrated, scared, and there was no public meeting to allay fears or pass on information.”

Agatiello said two weeks after the fire, the Village was preparing to hold a meeting, but it was cancelled. So she held her own meeting with about 100 community members to talk about the fires and to prepare for future emergencies.

“There was no power, water or communication for days—no gas, no money from the bank…Nobody knew what was going on outside the town,” said Agatiello. “We had sign up sheets at the meeting and an open mic, and it was a much-needed de-briefing.

“Now we have a working committee made up of volunteers and we want to meet with council.”

Questions about protecting Ashcroft’s water source were directed at Peter Coxon from Urban Systems as he updated the audience on the new Water Treatment Plant.

Members of the public wanted to know what would happen to the water system in the event of an oil spill upstream of the town and whether Ashcroft had a secondary water source.

Jan Schmidt wanted to know what type of event would trigger the system’s alarms.

Coxon said the membranes in the new system are monitored 24 hours per day, seven days per week by computer. In the case of oil contamination, the Village would be informed of the spill right away and shut down the system before the contaminant could reach the membranes.

They would wait for the contaminant to be cleared out of the river before turning the system back on. If the membranes were contaminated, they would have to be replaced.

He added that alarms would go off in the case of something like a spike in water turbidity.

Ashcroft is “reliant on the Thompson for its water,” said Coxon, but the old infiltration gallery could provide a secondary source in an emergency, since it takes its water in from a much lower point in the river. Contaminants, like oil, are either on the water’s surface or close to it.

He said they ran a pilot project from March to June this year to test the new system and “regardless of what you throw at it, the result is consistent.” They are ready to put the project to tender early next year and expect construction to be completed by next fall.

The annual operating cost of the new plant, said Coxon, will be about $200,000, and the life of the plant is at least 20 years.

The pumphouse will have standby power to protect it in the case of a power outage.

Coxon told the audience that energy costs for the new Pump Station in Legacy Park would be reduced by using solar energy for heating water for the washrooms and photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity for the plant.