Emergency Social Services prepares for disasters

When the police knock on your door at three in the morning with an evacuation order, that order is legally binding

Grant Gale

Grant Gale

When the police knock on your door at three in the morning with an evacuation order, that order is legally binding, according to Grant Gale, director of Emergency Social Services (ESS) for Clearwater and area.

“They don’t fool around on that,” he told a meeting held in Upper Clearwater Hall on Sunday.

“What they don’t want to happen is for some people to stay behind and then endanger the lives of others because they need to be rescued.”

Evacuation orders typically are signed by a mayor or other local government authority, he said.

They are almost always delivered by uniformed officials, such RCMP, fire department, conservation officers, search and rescue and so on.

“When you get the order, you might need to move quickly,” Gale said. “In Barriere in 2003 a lot of people only had 10 minutes notice.”

If an evacuation order is given, people will be directed to a reception centre where Emergency Social Services volunteers will be able to help them. The reception center will be located in a safe location outside of the area to be evacuated.

Evacuation orders are usually but not always preceded by an evacuation alert.

An alert is a warning to people that they might need to leave, but no time frame is given.

If an evacuation alert has been given, people should gather together food, clothing and other items they would need for several days, valuables, important documents, medications, and so on.

If an evacuation alert has been given and people neglect to collect the necessities they should have, they might find it difficult to be provided with such things as clothing and medications later.

Some people leave during an alert, not waiting for an evacuation order.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Gale said. “It’s just prudent planning.”

Evacuation rescinded is the third stage of the evacuation process but most people don’t think about it much, he said.

If an evacuation has been rescinded then people can go back home and begin rebuilding their lives. If they choose to stay away then government will not pay their hotel and restaurant bills.

Even if an evacuation has been rescinded, people should stay alert in case another evacuation order is given.

The ESS group based in Clearwater covers the area from Blue River to Blackpool but would like more volunteers, particularly from the outlying areas such as East Blackpool and Upper Clearwater, Gale said.

It is extremely important that there be a cadre of trained volunteers ready to go in the event of an emergency.

“‘I’ll be there when it hits the fan,’ doesn’t do it anymore,” he said.

Courses are available on-line but are best done with a group.

There is a wide range of skills needed to operate a reception centre, including organizing and providing food, lodging, clothing and personal care items, reuniting family members, providing emotional support, assisting people with special needs, first aid and health services, multicultural services, pet care, and so on.

Possibly the most important role is the meeter-and-greeter, who is the first person that people talk to as they come in the door.

A barbeque hosted by Upper Clearwater Farmers Institute followed the disaster preparedness meeting.