The Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) has started activating its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for the season, as a precautionary measure because of the risk of flooding throughout the region.
“It’s a quasi-activation, with the forecast shifting and the potential for flooding becoming more imminent,” says Kevin Skrepnek, the TNRD’s Emergency Programs Coordinator. “We wanted to get core staff who are typically in the EOC in the loop and ready to move forward. It’s not fully activated, but we wanted things in place in case we needed to activate it on short notice.”
Skrepnek adds that technically, last year’s EOC is still operating, as there are still active evacuation orders in place from the flooding in November 2021. “The EOC apparatus is still going, but now we can physically move people to a new room with equipment, which the IT people are in there setting up.”
If a local government finds itself in a situation that is an emergency in terms of impacting public safety, they need to have an EOC in place, explains Skrepnek. “We have responsibilities in terms of legislation to protect people and keep them safe. Although we’re legislated and funded by the province, we’re responsible for actual delivery in order to ensure that people are supported if they’re displaced.”
During fire season, the TNRD is focused on supporting evacuees, but during flood season it is doing a lot of responding as well, since there is no flood-fighting equivalent of the BC Wildfire Service. “We’re a lot more engaged in that respect, monitoring creek levels in some areas and dropping off sandbags. If there are fires we go out and document fire damage, but we mostly provide remote support. In flood season there’s more of a field level response.”
Skrepnek says that this is not necessarily the time of year that they would activate an EOC.
”The weather we’ve had this spring has been fairly mild and cool, but we’re really seeing it kick into gear now. The North and South Thompson Rivers usually reach their peak in mid- to late-June, but the province thinks we’re two to three weeks delayed, so we’ll probably be into July.
“That’s a little concerning, as by July we’re into fire season. The potential to have to manage floods and fires concurrently could definitely be a bit of a challenge.”
The EOC is staffed by TNRD internal staff members, who are seconded from their regular duties to work in the EOC. It means putting aside their day-to-day work and focusing on the EOC until things subside. “Right now they’re working on the logistics of getting sand and sandbags out to the field, communicating with the public, and coordinating with the province and neighbouring governments and First Nations,” says Skrepnek.
Between the wildfire and flood events in 2021, the TNRD had more than 60 different staff members working in the EOC; between them they worked more than 11,000 hours. The 2021 EOC was active for 75 consecutive days during wildfire season, which resulted in 100 evacuation orders affecting at least 3,641 homes and 193 evacuation alerts affecting at least 6,695 homes within the TNRD.
Last year’s flooding in the TNRD resulted in 13 evacuation orders impacting 162 properties, and nine evacuation alerts impacting 2,860 properties. The TNRD also operated a Resiliency Centre at two different locations in Kamloops for a total of 143 days last year, and in December 2021 established a satellite Resiliency Centre in Cache Creek to to provide support for evacuees from the flooding around Spences Bridge and Highway 8.
Skrepnek says that the TNRD is now waiting to see how flood season plays out, and cautions people about using this spring’s cool and rainy weather to predict what the fire season might look like.
“People see flooding right now, and that can make them complacent about fire season. June is usually the rainy season, so it’s not necessarily a sign of what July and August can look like. As we saw last year, if we have a heat dome or even typical heat, it will dry things out pretty quickly once the rain tapers off into the summer. We can’t say we’ll dodge a bullet.”