Pemberton area residents can expect to hear a lot more about emergency preparedness, following the results of a Hazard Risk and Vulnerability Assessment that identified 38 scenarios posing a threat to human life in the area.
The assessment, involving the Village of Pemberton, Squamish Lillooet Regional District - Area C and Lil'wat Nation's Emergency Management Programs, lists a number of recommendations for the region to better prepare for emergencies. Topping the list is an education campaign targeting citizens, urging them to make survival preparations that will get them through seven days without basic services.
The report scrapped the standard provincial 72-hours preparedness plan due to area communities' isolation and limited resources.
"Our isolation and self-dependence are the two key issues we should be concerned about," said Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy. "Increasing the time from 72 hours to seven days is a good recommendation that needs to be heeded."
Sturdy also placed high importance on the report's findings around the region's potable water sources. It called for stringent environmental protocols to guard against contamination of the source.
That would involve further studies to ensure the integrity of the aquifer is not negatively impacted if a hydro generation project is considered; testing the wells for volatile organic compounds, such as petroleum fuels; and communication with businesses identified as having the potential to cause contamination of the aquifer.
Despite several upgrades to Pemberton's water infrastructure, the system still does not have emergency backup power supplies, which Sturdy said is a major concern.
"If we lose power we lose our ability to pump water," he said.
In terms of actual risk assessment, however, the report identified earthquakes as presenting the highest level risk to the region, ranking four out of a possible four, the highest severity requiring immediate examination and preparedness planning.
The assessment also recommended focused preparations on eight other scenarios that ranked 'high risk," including fires, flooding, gas leaks, hazardous materials accidents, landslides, multiple casualty incidents due to large events, railway accidents and derailments, and interface fires. The analysis found these hazards warrant a concentrated review and the development of plan to reduce the risks in the near future.
As well, the potential flooding risk is also being discussed at the provincial level, with representatives from the Village of Pemberton and SLRD discussing the urgent need for water level monitoring on the Lillooet River with the provincial government at the last Union of B.C. Municipalities annual meeting in September.
Because Pemberton's economy is largely dependent on agriculture, forestry and tourism, its economy is especially vulnerable to the effects of an emergency. Any one of the outlined scenarios could have far-reaching consequences. The loss of major industry would result in reduced population, an increase in foreclosed homes, and reduced tax revenue. The loss of sales tax associated with closed and damaged businesses could immediately threaten a municipality's operating budget, affecting delivery of services.
Going forward, Sturdy said community leaders will review their emergency plans and draft a coordinated response plan "that's doable."
Clearly it's a significant undertaking, with all the different capacity issues, to prepare for every eventuality the report outlines."