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The following information can be found at the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program web site

“Permission is hereby granted to copy or otherwise reproduce electronic or printed PEP publications as
is, for the purpose of public awareness or for educational use.”

Government Response at All Levels....What Happened
Local Governments

All Greater Victoria local governments were invited to participate in a
debriefing hosted by PEP, with the purpose being to record "lessons
learned" for the benefit of all. It was not an audit of measures taken or
not by any local government, since it is not within PEP's mandate to do

More than a dozen communities' emergency coordinators reported on
their response to the storm. There were nearly as many different
approaches taken, and each was based on local situations. It would be
unkind to the reader to describe in detail what each community did.
"Lessons learned" tended to be similar and are listed at the end of each

For example, in anticipation of the forecast snow, District of Saanich
activated its Emergency Social Services (ESS) network on Dec. 28. After
the snow fell on Dec. 29, the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was
activated under direction of the Deputy Fire Chief. 115 emergency calls
for fire and ambulance response were taken, in coordination with public
works equipment escorts when needed. Private 4x4 vehicles were also
used. The EOC and ESS network provided about 2000 volunteer hours
assisting 500 residents with delivery of supplies, roof and walkway snow
clearance, etc.

Peninsula Emergency Measures (Sidney, North Saanich and Central
Saanich) began operating before Christmas, and staff were suffering
from fatigue when the large "dump" fell on Dec. 29. The three
communities coordinated snow clearance activities without problems,
and JJM (provincial highways maintenance contractor) supplied extra
salt requested.

District of Metchosin partially activated its EOC on Dec. 27 in
anticipation of problems and responded to requests for emergency
delivery of supplies and assistance clearing snow from roofs.

City of Colwood staffed the EOC and ESS volunteers responded. The
recently-organized community assistance program worked "brilliantly".

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                                      Page 1

Sooke Electoral Area operated an EOC for six days. The ESS
organization opened a reception centre (shelter) for trailer park
evacuees. (Sooke, under CRD jurisdiction, is not a municipality and has
no public works... accordingly, road clearance was a problem.)

District of Oak Bay opened their EOC and activated emergency
communications (for 24 hours). A water main break delayed plowing of

Town of Esquimalt did not open an EOC as individual fire, police and
public works departments were able to cope.

Saltspring Island, another CRD jurisdiction, did not experience
difficulties until heavy rain and rapid snow melt damaged roads,
buildings, and started landslides. An EOC, staffed by ESS volunteers,
operated for two days and coordinated evacuation of some residents.

In the City of Victoria an EOC was opened, and the city emergency
plan was activated, on Dec. 29. In addition to response similar to the
other communities, Victoria EOC included a structural engineer and
building inspector. Accommodation and food were provided to stranded
emergency service workers by hotels and the Red Cross.

The District of Highlands, a relatively new municipal government, did
not yet have an emergency plan, and has recognized that it should
develop one as soon as possible.

Local Government "Lessons Learned"

          "Borderline" emergencies (those which do not present obvious
           evidence they have occurred) cause a reluctance to activate
           emergency plans and call in emergency staff. Some
           municipalities now recognize that it would be better to activate
           their plan, then scale down response that is not needed.

          Communication with neighbouring municipalities is essential to
           coordinate mutual aid.

          Better communication (both physical links and simply talking)
           with the media is required. The public has a right to know what
           steps government is taking, and must receive reassurance that
           the situation is in hand.

          There needs to be a way to set regional priorities.

          Resources are available from outside sources.

          Coordination of a "road clearing plan" is needed, for snow (and

          In an emergency, municipal halls should be open.

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                          Page 2

          Emergency coordinator secondary duties should not belong to
           the Public Works Supervisor (e.g., Saanich Peninsula).

          Information gathered and disseminated by the media from non-
           official sources is often inaccurate, sometimes dangerous to
           individual safety, and detrimental to response efforts.

          The public expectation that government will (immediately) arrive
           to rescue people is a real and ongoing problem despite frequent
           reminders to "be on your own for at least 72 hours".

          Competition amongst municipalities for outside resources
           indicates some form of regional coordination is required.

          Many people disregarded advice to stay off the streets until snow
           was cleared, hampering snow removal progress.

Regional Governments and Regional Agencies
Greater Victoria Hospital Society found that staffs on shift during the
storm, through dedication, made continued patient care possible. New
shifts had difficulty getting to work, and volunteer drivers with 4x4
vehicles were recruited. Elective surgery had to be cancelled. Even after
main roads near hospitals were cleared, the hospitals remained isolated
because their access roads (and emergency evacuation routes) were

An EOC was set up at Victoria General Hospital when a call of fire at the
Royal Jubilee Hospital was received. (It was a false alarm.)

Military call-outs assisted in transporting patients for treatment, and
supplies, to hospitals.

GVHS "Lessons Learned"

          Develop a plan with municipalities to clear hospital grounds as
           well as main access routes. Ensure hospital evacuation routes
           are cleared.

          Coordinate communications with any support agencies assisting
           as patient transport. Some people would not go with other than
           BC Ambulance drivers.

          Prioritize outpatient care.

          Address regional transportation of staff and patients... pick-up
           points; screening of volunteer drivers.

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                           Page 3

          CRD should encourage a single local emergency broadcast

          Staffing during emergencies proved to be a hidden problem.

Provincial Government and Provincial Agencies
BC Ferries service was forced to shut down on Dec. 29 due to staff
inability to get to work. Two vessels were put on standby to transport
medical emergencies and supplies to the Gulf Islands and the mainland.

Ministry of Human Resources (Emergency Social Services)
supported municipalities as requested (and as noted by the
municipalities in the first section of this chapter). ESS staff coordinated
relief agencies such as the Red Cross and proactively contacted
municipal ESS directors to encourage an appropriate response. (Note
that ESS operations are a municipal responsibility, even though the ESS
volunteers are trained by provincial staff.) On day 3 and 4, the ad-hoc
volunteer coordination already in place was assumed by the trained ESS

Ministry of Transportation and Highways consulted with PEP and
provided assistance and materiel through the highway maintenance
contractor (JJM Ltd.); notably, plows were assigned to BC Ambulance to
provide "dedicated" snow clearance from point A to point B. JJM had
unused equipment for hire if municipal staff would have operated it.

Provincial Emergency Program. The Vancouver Island Regional
Manager was in contact with municipal and ministry emergency
coordinators to respond to requests for assistance, from Dec. 28 to Jan.
3. The PEP Emergency Coordination Centre, which is in emergency
mode 24 hours a day, spent most of its time responding to assistance
requests from the mainland communities, which far outnumbered
requests from Greater Victoria municipalities. To respond to the volume
of calls, PEP Emergency Coordination Centre staffing levels were

Non-emergency callers at times swamped telephone capacity and made
contact difficult with emergency coordinators and media.

In accordance with provincial emergency coordination procedures, the
volume of activity at the PEP ECC prompted Director PEP to consult with
affected ministries and consider emergency measures. Consultation
occurred on day 2 of the event. It was determined that services to
municipalities would be coordi-nated through the Vancouver Island
Regional Manager, with no additional staff called in to staff a PFRC. A
PECC would be established at PEP Headquarters to deal with the

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                          Page 4

Vancouver Island situation and the events elsewhere. Highways and
Ambulance staffs joined the PECC on day 3.

Given that municipalities could declare their own state of local
emergency, and had not done so, there was no need to declare a
provincial state of emergency.

Assistance was requested from the Canadian Forces on behalf of the
Attorney General- one of PEP's specific responsibilities in an emergency.
The assistance request was for all areas of the province experiencing
storm conditions, not just Greater Victoria. In all, five of PEP's regions
were experiencing similar snow-related conditions.

PEP arranged for delivery of 200,000 sandbags to Bay Street Armoury in
Victoria, in anticipation of snowmelt flooding conditions.

Difficulty was experienced maintaining emergency public information
continuity as staff rotated, and telephone communication with media in
the Victoria area was difficult.

Provincial Government/Provincial Agencies "Lessons Learned"

          As with local governments, there was reluctance to activate
           emergency operations centres and coordinating facilities,
           because the situation was not serious enough to warrant it. Many
           now agree that it is better to over-react and then cut back, rather
           than to under-react. This is the philosophy in existing emergency
           management guidance documents, but personal reluctance
           should be modified (through training or direction).

          Provincial government staff in all ministries with emergency
           responsibilities must be kept aware of their duties, and be
           allowed the opportunity to practise response and coordination
           skills. Training and exercising is available (in Greater Victoria
           Exercise Thunderbird 2 was held in late Nov. 1996) but those
           who did not attend were not aware of the requirements when
           called upon to perform emergency duties.

          Telephone numbers for emergency coordination use will have
           unlisted numbers, while maintaining existing public-access
           numbers. Similar "private" lines to some media outlets have
           been instigated.

          Difficult emergency communications and contacts could have
           been overcome through planning. Find out who to call before you
           have to.

          People are not responding to requests to stay off roads, or stay
           home, or stay off the telephone; as a result they are interfering
           with emergency response. Greater public education effort is

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                             Page 5

           needed, and consideration could be given to force of law
           measures (emergency powers) in future situations.

          Many instances of the benefits of regional emergency
           coordination were suggested. At the moment, only the provincial
           PFRC concept can achieve this. But, a Regional District
           coordination capability would provide full-time planning as well
           as during-emergency capabilities. The areas mentioned include
           ESS volunteer networks, emergency broadcast, road
           maintenance, and traffic control.

          E-mail is a valuable communication tool.

Federal Government and Federal Agencies
Only the Canadian Forces, Department of National Defence, were
officially involved in the provincial and local response. Regular and
reserve Army personnel and equipment were tasked in Kamloops, the
Upper Fraser Valley, Vancouver and Victoria areas. The local Army
reserve units were called up (varying from 170 to 450 personnel) with
thirty 4x4 vehicles. They assisted in the establishment of emergency
reception centres, rescuing stranded motorists, and transportation of
medical staff and patients, supplies and sandbags. Personnel shovelled
snow from critical facilities. Military toboggans were useful to quickly
transport people from buildings to vehicles which could not approach
closely themselves.

Canadian Forces "Lessons Learned"

          Military organizations supporting civil authorities should not be
           put in the position of assessing task priorities themselves. This is
           up to agency requesting support.

          Emergency plans should be revised to include snowstorms such
           as this event. Few agencies had thought through the types of
           contingency actions that could be used to deal with snow

The Media's Activity and Expected Response
One of the main events of Blizzard of '96 was the willingness of radio
station CFAX 1070 to set itself up early in the morning of Dec. 29 as a
phone-in clearing house for residents with problems who were looking for
solutions. This is not to say that other radio stations were not contributing
as well, but CFAX had the community's ears for at least the first day of
the storm.

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                              Page 6

CFAX had a bare-bones staff at work, as did many emergency agencies
in municipalities and elsewhere, and all were working flat out to respond
to callers. Problems were being solved; there is no question of that. For
quite a few hours, however, the mass of callers to CFAX prevented
contact with CFAX by municipal officials and the Provincial Emergency
Program, who had emergency information to pass to the community.

Governments expect to be able to utilize the media to communicate with
the public, and the media have always stated their willingness to do so. It
is perhaps too much to expect the connection to be made instantly, and
in this case there was communication within a few hours. Many people
thought the connection should have been made sooner, and phoned
CFAX to complain about it, thus further preventing the connecting link.

Other media were severely affected by the storm in one way or another,
and could not fulfil the role they thought they could (would) play. In an
emergency, that can happen, and the remaining overall capability is
pressed all the harder to deliver.

Provision is now being made for dedicated telephone lines which cannot
be tied up by the public.

This event spawned a phenomenon in which the media encouraged an
unofficial network of volunteers and volunteer coordinators to exist and
operate without anyone being aware of the pitfalls. This well-intentioned
service, and the local volunteerism which promoted it, is discussed in the
next chapter.

The importance of volunteer programs being officially sanctioned by the
Provincial Emergency Program will be emphasized more in future.

Volunteers - (Official and Convergent)
In British Columbia, there is a program to enroll and administer
emergency volunteers. It is one of the mandated roles of the Provincial
Emergency Program (PEP). The registration of volunteers facilitates:

          Workers' Compensation Benefits in the event of injury, death, or
           assumption of liability by a volunteer;

          payment of out-of-pocket expenses;

          training in emergency response or management procedures;

          identification of   individuals   as   a   government-sponsored
           volunteer; and

          for most volunteers, municipal emergency program employment.

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                          Page 7

PEP volunteers are always employed on behalf of a government
emergency program, and usually in support of one's own community.
They are always identifiable. They are not permitted to accept payment
for a service provided, although they are compensated for expenses and
receive recognition from both PEP and their employing local emergency
program. Most of these volunteers are in organised groups in the fields
of amateur radio, emergency social services, wilderness search and
rescue, air search and rescue, and auto extrication.

In short, the registration of volunteers is for the protection of the
volunteer, and for the protection of the public against incompetence and
even fraud.

All government emergency programs can quickly enrol additional
volunteers they need during response to an emergency. Governments
may also hire persons to fulfil emergency roles if they wish to do so (e.g.,
persons to move snow). There is a distinct difference between the two
categories, and the main distinction is the salary or wage paid to the
temporary employee. Both categories may be working side by side, and
both do so on behalf of government. The liability of government is
protected in both cases by the Emergency Program Act.

Convergent volunteers are those which come forward to help after an
emergency situation has arisen. In the emergency management world,
there are general guidelines on how to handle convergent volunteers.
They are interviewed for skills, interests and suitability; and then they are
given a familiarization briefing on being a volunteer, and some training if
possible. Then they are assigned to a superior in the emergency
program and they do not "freelance".

During Blizzard of '96 we saw volunteers of all types in action. Many well-
meaning persons performed valuable organizational services totally on
their own recognizance and thus exposed themselves to liability. Some
others expended their own money for fuel for their vehicles, for example,
as they drove emergency staffs to and from work in hospitals. These
examples, and there are others, would have benefited from being part of
a local emergency program, and being registered. Even after becoming
aware of this, some volunteer coordinators were reluctant have
government take over their efforts. At the same time, many citizens, and
even a few of the same volunteer coordinators, were publicly demanding
to know "where is the government?"

Unfortunately, we also saw persons hoping to work for pay representing
themselves as volunteers, without the knowledge of the coordinator
making the contact with the person needing help. There were instances
of charging excessive prices for services.

WWW.AMATEUR RADIO.CA                                                            Page 8

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