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Concerns over lack of consultation from Province draws ire of RDCK

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
June 13th, 2023

A lack of consultation on the updating of the provincial Emergency Support Services guide has the regional district ‘concerned’ about the shortcoming, prompting the board of directors to voice its displeasure.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board will be sending a letter to the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness (EMCR), the EMCR Emergency Support Services (ESS) program, UBCM Flood and Wildfire Advisory committee, and other regional districts over a lack of consultation regarding the ESS Program Guide (2022).

As a provincial program administered by local governments and First Nations, ESS provides short term basic support to people affected by disasters, said RDCK emergency program coordinator Jon Jackson in his report to the board.

But when EMCR released a new ESS Program Guide on Dec. 8, 2022 without any prior consultation with the RDCK, or any other local governments, the move caused a ripple of dissatisfaction across the province, said Jackson.

He said EMCR staff have stated the guide was not released in draft for comments and consultation, as it is “primarily built on current practices already widely accepted across B.C.,” and on feedback from previous emergency incidents.

“It is unclear if EMCR discussed the new guide with ESS volunteer teams, however, they did not approach any within the RDCK,” Jackson said.

“This process is not adequate consultation with local authorities and First Nations who must implement the guide. A province-wide consultation on a draft document should have occurred as emergency responses will vary hugely in different parts of British Columbia due to geographical and socio-economic realities.”

In the regional district ESS services are delivered by a network of over 70 volunteers throughout the region. Although the guide replaces an outdated January 2010 Emergency Social Services Field Guide, the guide includes several key changes of concern.

In addition, RDCK staff will be requesting a meeting with the EMCR regional managers to discuss the changes to the ESS Program Guide “in the interest of finding a common understanding and alignment with RDCK’s implementation of the ESS program.”

Key concerns

Issue 1: the guide states under preparedness for ESS response that the Emergency Program Coordinator (EPC) is responsible to “Prepare adequately for supports to vulnerable populations.”

ESS training does not prepare volunteers to deal with all people that could be considered vulnerable, which may include people with mental health issues, substance addictions, and seniors.

Support for people beyond the short term basic needs such as food, lodging and incidentals that may be provided to evacuees is excluded from the ESS program and should remain the responsibility of the relevant ministry or agency.

Issue 2: The EMCR regional level and their responsibilities during the different phases of emergency management which includes “Acting as a contact point for EPCs, providing expert advice on local and regional issues.”

EMCR regional managers (RMs) are not experts on local issues; this is best known by the local authorities and First Nations directly. RMs possess the larger EMCR perspective and in depth knowledge of regional response, but they are by definition not experts in local issues or needs.

Issue 3: “Resource requests (RRs) describe a need rather than a suggested solution. For example, a RR which describes a need for immediate training for new volunteers could be filled by many different people, while a specific request for an experienced ESS responder narrows the solution to one option.”

The ESS team in face-to-face contact with the residents affected by the disaster knows what they need, and why they need it, while EMCR supports those responding.

Removing the ability for the experts to request what they need and to recommend a solution is ineffective. A RR requesting a specific resource should not be discounted, if EMCR has an alternate suggestion, then a conversation should occur.

Issue 4: The guide refers to unattended minors that arrive at a reception centre without a legal guardian. The language on ensuring the safety of unaccompanied minors, including reporting to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is too vague, and input from ESS, MCFD and other responsible authorities (e.g. RCMP, local police), should be considered.

Issue 5: “Additional charges (such as room service or damages) are not covered by ESS and must be paid by the evacuee … First Nation government or local authority or the hotel.”

EMCR appears to be attempting to limit their own liability by transferring it to others, Jackson wrote.

“This responsibility must remain with the evacuee, and it cannot be transferred to local authorities, First Nations, or to the accommodation service providers as none of those agencies are equipped to carry this burden,” he said. “Suppliers willing to work with the ESS program are scarce enough — suggesting that they are responsible for an open-ended burden like potential damages to a room or excessive cleaning costs will deplete what few resources we currently have.”

Issue 6: The guide overreaches in its attempt to dictate how emergency operation centres will be organized, and the division of responsibilities between the EPC and the ESS directors (ESSDs), Jackson said.

“The RDCK already has processes in place for the ESSDs to recruit, train and exercise their local responders and to develop and maintain relationships with local suppliers, with support as needed from the EPC,” he said. “The guide states that this is now the responsibility of the EPC.

Local suppliers and local volunteers are the backbone of ESS. The management of these vital resources must remain a local responsibility, and be part of the ESSDs’ duties.

“It is important that these issues be addressed quickly to avoid confusion and frustration for the dedicated volunteers that form our ESS teams.”

Source: RDCK agenda, May 18

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