Go it alone, or tackle it regionally? City to consider rejoining regional Emergency Operations Centre
By now we’re all familiar with the longstanding political disputes between Rossland and Trail. Be it sewer or recreation, the ability between the two political bodies to cooperate has been one of great contention, particularly in recent years. One more item can be added to that list: Emergency Operations Centres and plans.
During discussion and debate last week at City Hall, as a committee of the whole (COW) went through the five year financial plan before ultimately adopting it this week, one item that generated questions and concerns was around the Emergency Operations line item. At first glance the numbers may jump out and cause concern. The reality on the ground in this case, apart from the political relationship strain between Trail and Rossland, is an entirely different matter.
Back in 2006 the province downloaded the responsibility for emergency preparedness plans and emergency operations centres to the municipal level and it was mandated that municipalities must complete an emergency plan as well as maintain and fund an emergency operations centre. Given our region’s host of small municipalities, the first response was to cooperate and develop the plan and centre regionally.
“There are huge benefits in being part of a regional planning service,” explained Dan Derby, the RDKB’s Deputy Regional Fire Chief and Emergency Program Coordinator. “It goes from staffing the emergency center, to having agreements in place to have staff support each other across the region or different government settings. In smaller communities like ours there is no need to do this independently because a lot of the risk between communities is the same. It makes both operations and financial sense to do it on a regional level. The communities are all so close and share the same risks.”
In 2007 and 2008, the regional function’s first two years of operations, Rossland participated and was contributing $14,608 to the program. During Rossland’s participation in the regional plan the City Administrator felt Rossland wasn’t getting a good value for its money and ultimately a lack of communication between the regional service and Rossland caused Rossland to pull out and go it alone. That final incident involved a full-scale mock disaster to test the facility. A simulated bus crash on the fertilizer plant hill in Trail involving mass casualties took place without the City of Rossland being contacted. That essentially was the final straw and Rossland began to put its own emergency plan and centre together.
Jason Ward has since been brought on board and has been taking ongoing training to become Rossland’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator: he’s been completing an Emergency Preparedness plan for Rossland as well as working to develop an emergency operations centre.
Since pulling out of the regional service, Rossland’s budget for emergency operations has decreased from the $14,608 it contributed to the regional program to roughly $11,000 over the past two years.
At present City Hall is Rossland’s emergency centre. Due to the small size of the building, however, it is not ideal and at present is only suitable to deal with a level one of three emergency; level one being a scenario where there is situation developing that may have the potential to cause trouble and that would cause people to be phoning in for information or facilitating ground crews for action. For example, if a skier is lost on the mountain or there was a sizable avalanche in the surrounding mountains. Level two would be an escalating situation with potential for loss of life and level three a full blown emergency with loss of life and multiple emergency response teams activated and in action.
If a level two or level three emergency were to happen in Rossland today, City Hall as an emergency centre would be inadequate and Rossland would have to rely on the good will of the regional district and handshake agreements to the effect that, when needed, the local communities will support one another.
As the COW looked through the Emergency preparedness line item in the five year plan and saw increasingly large numbers as well as a $500,000 item scheduled for 2016+, discussions veered towards council ultimately making a recommendation for city staff to investigate rejoining the regional service as it appeared by the numbers that the cost to Rossland would bump up in 2011 to over $30,000 per year, more than double what the city used to pay into the regional service. Then there would also apear to be a potential half million dollar expense to create an emergency operations centre somewhere down the line beyond 2016.
“I’m just wondering if we should reconsider [joining the regional service],” commented Councillor Kathy Moore. “The point is if we had a big disaster or a forest fire, wouldn’t we call on our neighbours anyway? Do we really need to fund our own disasters? This is an area we may be better off partnering with our regional district and neighbours.”
That $19,000 jump in the budget for 2011, as explained by the emergency operations coordinator, was a method of stockpiling money each year with an aim of completing the wildfire protection plan council approved last year. In 2010, regional districts in the area received $5 million that was split up among the various municipalities to begin a fuel reduction program in forests surrounding the cities. That brushing and clearing work took place in Rossland last summer; however the money needed was just a start and there is still 22 hectares remaining to be treated. The jump up in the budget from $11,000 to $30,000 is to save money to complete that plan. That is money that would not become available from the regional district if the city were to rejoin the regional service.
“I’m just trying to stockpile 30 grand a year, hoping that they we can get some grants of matching funds so we can continue on in our wildfire protection plan,” explained Ward. “We’re doing the plan that we have agreed to and that has been accepted by council. We have our wildfire protection plan, but if it just sits on a shelf, what is the point? It’s expensive. It’s not cheap.”
In Ward’s opinion, the City’s current setup of going it alone is providing a higher level of service to Rossland at a lower cost than being part of the regional service. The primary benefit of going it alone has been the ability to develop an emergency plan that is specifically tailored to Rossland.
“It’s now more focused,” added Ward. “It’s focused on us, our community, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are. If Teck blows up, for example, we’re just receiving people from Trail, we have no role in that. It won’t affect us except that we are a receiving community. If we get 3,000 people from Trail where are we going to put them? Now it’s in the plan and we have it organized.”
The downside is that Rossland’s current Emergency Operations Centre (City Hall) is too small to handle level two or three emergencies. That is why the $500,000 line item was placed in 2016 and beyond in the hopes of someday down the road either constructing or renovating an existing space to act as the emergency centre. That centre would remain largely unused but it is necessary to have a turnkey office set up with phone lines, computers, radios, mapping equipment and technology and so on so that in the case of a large scale emergency it could be fired up at a moment’s notice.
If Rossland was faced with such a crisis, there is a handshake agreement that Rossland could use the regional emergency operations center in Trail. Politically, that creates an unbalanced situation whereby Rossland is not paying into the regional service but, if need be, could use the facilities. However, Ward has been working closely with the regional service, attends their meetings, and has built strong relationships so that there is cooperation happening at the ground level, just not necessarily at the political level. In fact, Ward’s first move after being hired was to re-establish regional relationships so that if need be Rossland can call on that service in a moment’s notice.
“We have the talent, we have the capability and we have extra resources down the hill that I’m sure will help out. From that perspective Rossland is prepared should an emergency strike tomorrow,” he concluded.