British Columbia must strengthen crisis risk communications before, during and after wildfires: report

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While the study did not focus on the recent wildfire season in British Columbia, the professor who led the study said the fire-ravaged communities of Lytton and Monte Creek also faced communication problems.

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KAMLOOPS, BC – Upgrades to communication systems in wildland fire zones across British Columbia are needed to save lives and property, according to a report released Wednesday.

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The Thompson Rivers University report, which examined British Columbia’s communication practices during the devastating forest fire seasons of 2017 and 2018, calls for improvements to better educate people about the risks before, during and. after forest fires.

The report did not examine the most recent wildfire season in the province, but its recommendations remain relevant and apply to the fire-ravaged communities of Lytton and Monte Creek that have faced problems. communication last summer, said Professor Michael Mehta, who led the study.

“When it comes to managing the risk of forest fires and other disasters, we need to dramatically improve, right now, the way we deal with things before they happen, as they happen and follow it up, especially if there is damage like Lytton, BC, ”Mehta said in an interview.

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Much of Lytton, located about 250 kilometers north of Vancouver, was destroyed by a wildfire on June 30, after consecutive days of record high temperatures above 45 ° C.

Two people died in the fire.

In August, homes and buildings in the community of Monte Lake, located between Vernon and Kamloops, were destroyed by a forest fire.

“By streamlining and improving communications and taking this lifecycle approach that we recommend, we believe we will see higher levels of trust and more responsive action to messages from government and organizations,” Mehta said. “This should reduce the loss of property. This should ultimately reduce the loss of life. It is essential.”

The 89-page report, titled “A Lifecycle-Based Model for Risk and Crisis Communication in British Columbia Forest Fires,” makes six recommendations, including ensuring that remote communities and Indigenous people have robust communication systems where emergency managers can relay quickly and accurately. information on forest fires.

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Mehta said improving internet services to remote communities or at least providing local officials with a satellite phone to quickly communicate wildfire information offers better protection.

Being able to access reliable and current information on the state of forest fires in local areas is necessary for safety and security, he said.

“The biggest problem that governments, first responders and emergency management organizations faced in 2017 and 2018 was how to disseminate credible and timely information that gave people the right tools to make decisions, especially when there was disinformation on social media and a lot of information to the contrary. , Mehta said.

Forest fires burned more than 12,000 square kilometers in 2017 and 13,500 square kilometers in 2018.

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He said people must be able to receive information from official sources or face the prospect of unofficial and unreliable information.

“What happens is that sometimes you end up with misinformation, misinformation, confusing information or no information and people have to fly by the seat of their pants to make decisions about which way to go when. evacuation, ”Mehta said. “All of those things are on hold when you don’t have that kind of coordination in place. “

He said any overhaul of communications services must also include offering support to people and communities in the aftermath of wildfires, as mental health services are needed in what will be long periods of time. increased anxiety about the dangers of fire.

BC Wildfire Service executive director Ian Meier said in a statement the service has the report and is committed to continuous improvement.

A 2018 report by former British Columbia Cabinet Minister George Abbott and Hereditary Chief Maureen Chapman called for an overhaul of the province’s disaster response, including improving the communication and relations with First Nations.

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