Communications lesson learned from 2003 firestorm

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
July 12, 2017 - 5:00am Updated: July 12, 2017 - 4:27pm

KAMLOOPS — Right about now, frustration and impatience should be setting in among some of the unfortunate people who have been displaced from their homes by the wildfires.

Tempers will grow short as exhaustion takes hold, and questions about how the emergency is being handled will become more urgent.

While the response both in the woods and at evacuation centres has been nothing short of outstanding, it hasn’t been perfect.

For example, there was the shuffle of the reception centre from McArthur Island to TRU two days after it opened.

And, four days after the wildfires broke out, a couple of officially sanctioned Facebook pages were finally set up for volunteers and those wishing to donate goods and services for evacuees.

Up until then, ad hoc efforts were rampant via social media as people anxiously looked for ways and places to help — something to make note of for next time.

But while such things should be part of the crisis management plan, the really important stuff is being well looked after. Aside from getting people out of danger safely and providing them with the necessities of life after they’re forced from their homes, the biggest thing is communication.

Always, what evacuees want to know first and foremost is: “when can I go home, and do I still have a home to go to?”

The greatest failure of the 2003 firestorm response was the lack of this kind of information, and people got mad. And a lesson was learned.

Yesterday, residents of the Boston Flats mobile home park near Cache Creek were bussed to the park to look at the devastation from the Ashcroft Reserve fire. Though almost all the homes there were lost, it no doubt provided a sense of closure.

A little later in the day, a similar trip was made with the media.

Communication of this kind of timely information is essential, and authorities have clearly not forgotten the things that went wrong in 2003, and are determined not to repeat them.

RELATED VIDEO: Resident of Boston Flats trailer park reacts to seeing devastation