Gaps in Emergency Support Services made apparent this year

A need to improve ESS

The system isn't broken by any means, but there are gaps.

That's the way Sandra Follack, the Regional District of Central Okanagan's emergency program co-ordinator sees the current Emergency Support Services program.

ESS is a provincial program under Emergency Management BC which is responsible for guiding people displaced by disasters from house fires to large wildfires and floods currently ravaging several communities through the Southern Interior and Fraser Valley.

This year, the volunteer-run program has been tested mightily by historic floods and fires and is showing cracks. Volunteers are working well into the morning hours to help evacuees, while smaller communities simply don't have the resources to properly respond to their own emergencies.

"I know there are frustrations on a number of different levels, and I get it," said Follak. "We've had four major emergencies this year. We need to take a breath in order to fix it. We know what we need to do, we just need to sit down and improve on it."

Follack says there are always people who will get missed, and there will be some form of miscommunication along the way due to the sheer magnitude of some events and the large number of people being processed.

"We have recognized, and do recognize when we do have a large event, you have thousands of people evacuated at the same time that there is no program at all that you could put in place that will support everybody the same way

"Trying to work with the community to say what do we need to provide people, to say here's where the buses are, here's where the hotels are, here's how we can support you. It's a big ask, it's a quick ask, and sometimes we fall short."

She says when large events, such as the one involving the evacuation of the City of Merritt, there's a level of expectation from local governments to provide support before provincial support comes.

Follack says the steps are in place, they just have yet to be connected. While she didn't get into specifics, deferring instead to provincial agencies, Follack says that process needs to be connected properly.

"I do know through a lot of discussions with the provincial level, through EMBC and through the local government level, it's recognized as a miss. t's in place, it's just who initiates the connection to say this is now a provincial level."

Follack says there was a bit of a miss on lessons learned a couple of years ago that still needs to be discussed.

"I believe you'll see this being a larger discussion at the local government level as well as the provincial level to say we've recognized these components are here, they just need to be connected."

Regardless of what transpires, Follack says volunteers will always be an integral part of the program.

They're the ones, she says, who can step up at a moments notice and have a basic understanding of how the program works. They are also the ones who have been working until two and three in the morning processing evacuees from the latest disaster.

The provincial government did not respond to request for comment by deadline.

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