Hope residents can now sign up to get local emergency alerts through the Alertable App, and over 800 residents have already done so according to Fire Chief Tom De Sorcy.
In an update to council Sept. 27, De Sorcy confirmed the district had joined the emergency alert system that same day and addressed questions he had received during the summer wildfire season when Hope’s fire department was deployed. De Sorcy provided his update shortly after a group of Hope residents staged a peaceful protest outside district hall, calling for council to apply for a wildfire prevention grant as well as provide better emergency planning information and organize volunteers in the community.
Alertable is a “smart alert system” that notifies users via email, text, phone calls and through notifications within the smartphone application, of emergencies as well as weather events and even municipal issues like garbage and transit if the local municipality uses the app this way. People can sign up for notifications either by downloading the Alertable smartphone app or signing up at alertable.ca.
De Sorcy said Hope had signed up to Alertable as a sub-district to the Fraser Valley Regional District, at a cost of $600 annually. Fraser Canyon communities as well as the Sunshine Valley are already a part of the system.
Kathy Koopman, spokesperson with the newly formed Hope Citizens Emergency Disaster Planning Committee (HCEDPC) told council she wants to see education and promotion of the app locally. De Sorcy said the district will be marketing the app through the newspaper and on their website. Koopman said there need to be other ways to get this information out, for those who don’t read the paper. Mayor Peter Robb suggested a session with the Canyon Golden Agers Society, noting it could be difficult reaching some seniors with this information.
Alertable is not the only way people find out about evacuations, they will also find out through procedures in the emergency plan including going door-to-door, communicating through social media and local news.
De Sorcy addressed the evacuation question in his update to council, as one of the questions he had received during the summer wildfire season where the fire department was deployed to Lytton, Spences Bridge, Cache Creek, Brookmere and Vernon, responses which De Sorcy said the department billed the province over $200,000 for. The fire department also helped relocate the community of Lytton First Nation to Camp Hope, which at one point housed 70 people.
Koopman and the HCEDPC brought to council a completed application for the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative, funding to help communities mitigate wildfire risk, which they hoped the council would support through a resolution.
This did not happen at the meeting, and Robb explained that any potential grant applications would be decided by council on advice from staff recommendations. “Fire is important, but it’s flood mitigation that is the number one item we’re dealing with,” Robb said, referencing information from De Sorcy about the largest risk to the community which isn’t, in fact, wildfires. Flooding comes first as a risk, followed by rockfall and transportation incidents and in particular incidents involving rail traffic and hazardous substances De Sorcy noted.
He added that the wildfire prevention initiative is basically a community assessment, addressing among other things how property owners could fireproof their homes. Yet with the district not having jurisdiction over private properties, the recommendations in such an assessment are not binding.
“Are we any less safe by not having a plan over these past few years? No,” he said, adding that many communities that followed through with this initiative have essentially shelved the recommendations.
Robb added that the district’s strategic plan is constantly evolving and this type of initiative could happen in the future, depending on the elected council’s priorities.
“There is a huge amount of widows in town, a huge amount of single older women. So I thought the district could help me just a little bit, getting me a risk assessment on the property, bringing by the chipper to help me out with all the branches that fall in the winter, wow wouldn’t that be wonderful,” Koopman said. “I’m really disappointed that it did not pass.”
Koopman also wanted to see more emergency information on the district website, noting she checked 49 district websites and every district has either an emergency plan or wildfire resiliency plan available for the public to read. Other municipalities put further resources online, she said, including what to do with a pet during a disaster, seminars, questions and answers, etcetera.
“If 49 districts could offer this service, why can’t we offer something to the public that specifically deals with Hope,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking, we’re asking for transparency, information that will help all of us.”
Robb noted the district website is undergoing an update. And De Sorcy confirmed that he had heard and noted Koopman’s comments.
The emergency plan itself will not be included on this website, as it is a “functional, operational document” that falls under freedom of information and protection of privacy legislation De Sorcy said. “Those documents can’t be placed in public domain,” he said.
Koopman also strongly recommended having an Emergency Services (ESS) group in Hope noting that six people in Hope were either in the process of training or had volunteered in such a capacity. De Sorcy said it’s nice to hear that people are interested, Hope does not currently have such a group and instead relies on mutual aid partners in Agassiz and the Fraser Valley. The hope is to put a call out soon for local ESS volunteers De Sorcy added.