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Emergency Management

The Government of British Columbia follows a four-pillar approach to emergency management. 

BC has developed effective emergency management practices, which are largely focused on preparedness and response. Emergency management is evolving in light of climate change and the need to prepare for more frequent and intense natural hazard events and to reduce and manage risk in a more proactive way.

Volunteers and emergency response crews construct a sandbag barrier during a flood in Kelowna in May, 2017.

Mitigation is one of four pillars of emergency management. Flood mitigation focuses on reducing (or mitigating) the negative consequences of a flood. Flood mitigation is possible through effective land use planning and flood infrastructure that reduce the likelihood of floodwaters negatively impacting people, buildings and other assets. Several approaches to flood mitigation are outlined in Reduce Flood Risk.

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Effective flood mitigation depends on having good quality flood hazard and risk information, such as flood modelling, mapping and risk assessment.

Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia

Preparedness

Emergency preparedness includes all activities undertaken in anticipation of a likely emergency, such as creating plans, procedures, contact lists, and training and exercises. The goal of these activities is to make sure that all orders of government and other organizations are ready and able to respond quickly and effectively in the event of an emergency.

These same preparedness approaches can often be adopted by individuals, households, businesses and non-profit organizations. As is recognized in the Government of BC’s effort to update the Emergency Program Act and adopt the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a “whole of society” approach is required.

Preparedness has been a focus of emergency management in British Columbia, and Canada more broadly, for several decades. Emergency managers at the local, regional and provincial scale develop exercise plans and undertake specific exercises at these scales, as well as cross-border exercises with partners in the United States.

In the Lower Mainland, there are other measures that support flood preparedness. Snowpack conditions are monitored throughout BC to get an initial understanding of the magnitude of floods that could potentially occur. As the spring progresses, weather forecasts are monitored to understand the potential rate of snowmelt and the influence of rain during the spring freshet season. If snowpack and weather conditions increase the magnitude and likelihood of flooding, flood forecasts, advisories and warnings can be triggered to increase steps at local and regional scales. For example, more frequent dike patrols are triggered at specific water levels on the lower Fraser River. Two key flood forecast resources in BC are the <BC River Forecast Centre and Storm Surge BC.

As flood threats are elevated, emergency management staff and Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) are activated by local and First Nations governments and by other organizations, such as public utilities. Where flood hazards and risks are of regional concern, Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centres (PREOCs) are activated to provide regional coordination and support.

The Government of BC is currently working with the federal government on a text-based notification system that does not require people to opt-in. This is another example of an early-warning system (EWS) that can be applied in flood-related contexts. Other regional organizations (e.g., Translink) are exploring their own EWSs for flood.

In Metro Vancouver, the Integrated Partnership for Regional Emergency Management (IPREM) is an intergovernmental partnership between the Government of BC and the Metro Vancouver Regional District. IPREM is focused on regional emergency planning initiatives for Metro Vancouver. There is no equivalent regional organization for other parts of the Lower Mainland, such as the Fraser Valley.

Flood-related preparedness activities may include putting up temporary flood barriers – such as sandbags or door shields. It can also include evacuation planning for family and companion animals, moving important items and electronics to higher floor levels, preparing a “grab and go” bag, shelter planning, purchasing and understanding a flood insurance policy.

Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia

Response

In British Columbia, emergency managers and their partners follow the BC Emergency Management System (BCEMS), which is mandated for use by the Government of BC and recommended to local authorities. The BCEMS Response Goals are as follows, listed in order of importance:

  1. Ensure the health and safety of responders
  2. Save lives
  3. Reduce suffering
  4. Protect public health
  5. Protect infrastructure
  6. Protect property
  7. Protect the environment
  8. Reduce economic and social losses

Emergency response actions are coordinated from Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) and Provincial Regional Emergency Operation Centre (PREOCs). Response can involve many different activities, such as patrolling, inspecting and strengthening dikes; deploying temporary measures, such as aquadams and other temporary structures; evacuation and provision of emergency shelter and other emergency services; and search and rescue.

Many local and First Nations governments have their own flood response plans.

As the frequency and intensity of hazard events increases as a result of a changing climate, governments are becoming increasingly stretched in their preparedness and response capacities. For example, in 2017 and 2018 the flood and wildfire seasons overlapped and stretched provincial staff to their limits. Accordingly, the Government of BC has partnered with agencies, such as the Red Cross and Community Futures, to support response and short-term recovery in areas impacted by major hazard events.

Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia

Recovery

While preparedness and response activities tend to prioritize life-safety and are oriented towards crisis management, recovery is a much longer-term and complex process that addresses local economic development, quality of life, treatment of psychosocial traumas, and improved capacity for people and communities to recover from a wide range of flood consequences.

There is an opportunity after a flood to “Build Back Better.” Rather than simply rebuilding what was damaged with the same design and in the same place, there is an opportunity to rebuild vulnerable assets away from flood hazards and also to use resilient designs so future flood consequences are reduced.

Emergency Management BC released the Interim Provincial Recovery Framework in 2019 after the record-breaking flood and fire seasons of 2017 and 2018. The Interim Provincial Recovery Framework recognizes and supports recovery activities across three stages — short term, medium term, and long term — and in four sectors:

  1. People and Communities
  2. Economy
  3. Environment
  4. Infrastructure

Developing a recovery plan prior to a flood or other hazard event would help communities, businesses, infrastructure organizations and others to recover more rapidly and effectively than initiating recovery efforts after a flood without a plan. The Interim Provincial Recovery Framework and available flood risk information can help inform local and regional recovery plans.