Regional commentary by Jeff Burgar
A decade ago, the Province of Alberta was hot to trot on local governments across the province.
As the Boy Scout motto goes, they wanted those local governments to “Be Prepared.”
In this context, the preparation was to get ready for disaster.
Local councils everywhere were invited to meetings and sessions to think about their own disaster preparation.
Update handbooks, if they had one. If not, make one.
All were to contain latest contact phone numbers, government departments to reach for help, where the stockpiles of emergency products were kept, what government agency is responsible for what service, and more.
These days, that book is likely sitting on a shelf someplace in the CAO office. Or tucked away in a vault.
One of those ‘dust collectors’ an Alberta cabinet minister alluded to when asked about health concerns.
As he said recently, “We aren’t going to do another report that is just going to collect dust on a shelf someplace.”
Back to the topic of disaster. One meeting format had attendees write down their own ideas of what would be the most likely ‘disaster’ that could face their community.
A rail derailment or a truck rollover carrying dangerous goods was a biggie.
Contaminated water was high on the list. Power outage like the ice storm that hit Quebec got a couple of mentions. As did a pandemic. Flood.
But not on any list pre-2011 Slave Lake was wildfire.
Despite Slave Lake and the 2016 Ft. McMurray fire, wildfires still were not really on any ‘disaster’ radar going into 2023. Today, wildfires would likely be on the top of any list.
And pandemic. Possibly some kind of other health emergency, like a major accident straining resources of emergency departments.
This ‘top of mind’ thinking applies to politicians just as much as journalists and the public.
If it isn’t in your face, it is already at the bottom of the pile. Or is collecting dust on the shelf.
Another reality in our world is the people who need training the most are the people most likely to not get it.
After all, they think they already know everything. In one case, a former Peace Country mayor was so smart, he never attended any of those emergency prep meetings.
When his community faced a real, true to life local emergency, he decided not to call what is known as a State of Local Emergency.
“We don’t want to panic people,” he said.
Which, if you are unaware of such a call, this left first responders without a layer of protection.
In essence, personally and legally exposed over spur of the moment emergency decisions they might have to make.
Emergency prep should be rising to the top of government agendas.
Hopefully, Alberta will never be faced with the loss of life that happened in Maui.
As that same Peace Country mayor would have said about the Local Emergency in Maui before it happened,
“Pfft. You’ve been watching too many ‘Terminator’ movies.”
Tell that to victims anywhere.