Leadership During Crisis – PG Takes Centre Stage
Mayor Lyn Hall talks about servicing a city within a city – photo courtesy City of Prince George
Prince George, B.C. – As the Union of BC Municipalities convention gets underway, delegates had an opportunity to hear about the wildfire crisis that gripped the province over the summer, and how communities, like Prince George dealt with the challenges the wildfires presented.
For Prince George, it meant operating a city within a city as 10 thousand evacuees came to P.G. for shelter and support. Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall joined Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran in a panel discussion about the challenges and what communities need to do to be prepared.
“People were really interested in how the three of us, held a leadership role in getting information out, communication and how did we handle it. Lots of questions about communication.”
Prince George hasn’t yet had a full debriefing on what did, or didn’t, work over the summer when it came to welcoming and servicing evacuees “That’s in the works” says Mayor Hall. “We were just waiting to give it some time, as our final evacuees just left a short while ago and we are winding down that registration process.”
Mayor Hall says he believes those who attended the session learned that things are changing, “We have to be prepared for things like floods, Mayor Basran from Kelowna talked about that. Al and I talked about the fire situation, and we are seeing more and more things like this, and we need to be prepared.. It doesn’t matter what community you live in, if you are on the Island, in the centre of the province, or Fort Nelson, you need to be prepared and ready as a municipality for these disasters. That means having an emergency operations team that’s in place ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
The Regional District of Fraser Fort George has submitted a resolution for consideration during this convention, and it calls for more support from the Provincial government so communities can be better prepared. The resolution has not yet hit the delegation floor for discussion, but Mayor Hall says the Province is already listening. “Given the conversations we’ve had as a municipality on what we think we need to be prepared for future receiving of evacuees or having to evacuate our community, I get the feeling government is saying, ‘what are the lessons we’ve learned?’ ‘what do municipalities need to be ready again should something happen?”.
Mayor Hall says Prince George is already reviewing what steps may need to be taken to reduce the risk of interface fires . A full report on wildfire risk was prepared last year in the wake of the Fort McMurray fires and the City is working through what can be done to reduce risk in our parks and greenspaces. Mayor Hall says one of the things communities need to understand is the magnitude of services that need to be provided to evacuees “Whatever services we provide to residents, we need to be prepared to provide those same services to evacuees, whether it’s health care, accommodation, social services, that kind of thing, we need to be able to provide all of it.”
Mayor Hall says the underlying message is that no municipality can act as though ‘it can’t happen here’ “If you are saying that, then you aren’t prepared”.