The BCGEU welcomes the release of the provincial government's wildfire and flood report, Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia, which adopts some key elements of the BCGEU submission, while leaving room for improvement.
The report identifies 108 key recommendations to better prepare the province to respond to natural disasters like the unprecedented 2017 wildfire and flood crisis-ranging from better coordination with First Nations and other governments, to increased environmental information gathering and the re-integration of the BC Wildlife Service into the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).
"The wildfire report is comprehensive and makes some very practical recommendations to improve our province's readiness to prepare for, and respond to natural disasters," said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. "The BCGEU was closely involved in the public consultation process, and we're happy that some of our recommendations have been incorporated into the report. But we believe there are still areas of improvement that the report has not completely addressed."
The BCGEU played a central role in the review, with members serving as participants and contributors to the public consultation. The union conducted a member survey and prepared a detailed submission to the Wildfire and Flood Review. Union representatives met directly with the co-chairs of the review process in March and shared the stories and concerns of BCGEU members in person. BCGEU president Smith and treasurer Paul Finch are also scheduled to meet with wildfire staff in Kamloops on May 12 and 13.
Elements of the BCGEU submission that were incorporated into the review include recommendations to increase First Nations integration in emergency management, ensure there are mental health services during and after disasters, upgrade the efficiency of the province's streamflow database, and increasing funding for wildfire research.
However, the BCGEU believes that some key areas of the union's submission should be given serious further consideration, including the need to build capacity in Emergency Management BC, which currently reports significant workload and backlog issues. The union also focused on the need to address the serious staff turnover issue in the BC Wildfire Service, which erodes the experience levels of frontline crews.
Other areas that require specific attention include the need for a significant, long term investment in a province-wide fuel management program, enhanced road maintenance funding to reduce fire fuel and increase drainage, and the need for a single, integrated communications platform for emergency management agencies and local governments to access.
"We believe the report's recommendations will create significant improvements in emergency preparedness and response," said Smith. "But more needs to be done to ensure there are enough boots on the ground to carry out the government's policies."
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