NEW REPORT ON THE IMPACT OF A CHANGING CLIMATE: “Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in B.C.” (May 2018)

Review of B.C’s response to wildfires, floods recommends new disaster management approach

An independent review of British Columbia’s response to 2017’s wildfires and flooding recommends fighting fire with fire to protect communities and future forests.

The report, “Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in B.C.,” makes 108 recommendations and calls for an overhaul of disaster response practices.

Wildfires and floods last year displaced 65,000 people in the province.

“2017 was the worst fire season in recent memory. We also had unprecedented floods this spring that have often been forgotten as a result of the record-setting fire season, which devastated communities, displaced tens of thousands of people and disrupted the economy as the fires were happening and continues to disrupt the economy in the Interior,” Premier John Horgan stated in December 2017 when he announced the review.

What We Heard

Former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott and hereditary chief Maureen Chapman, of the Skawahlook First Nation in Agassiz, B.C., were appointed in December 2017 to undertake the first major examination of fire response programs since 2003, when about 2,500 fires destroyed more than 300 homes and businesses in the province.

“Beyond exploring the overall context for the devastating events, this report includes highlights from a robust series of public engagement sessions that took place in winter 2018, as well as a series of recommendations,” stated the co-authors in a letter of transmittal to Premier John Horgan.

“Many of the recommendations we are making align with those made by individuals, organizations and the many First Nations communities that were directly impacted. Their valued contributions, perspective and willingness to share were central to our recommendations.

“At all stages of our work, we experienced a true willingness on the part of all British Columbians to collaborate in improving emergency management in our province.”

B.C. unprepared, under-resourced for wildfire and flood threat

George Abbott said emergency systems are out of date and cannot handle the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

“The province would need to allow the public to join the fight in future disasters,” he stated. They are equipped to help in lots of cases. That’s what we believe B.C. should be encouraging: partnership.

“The resources of BC Wildfire Service were stretched well, well beyond their limits … having trained and equipped allies on the land base can only be helpful.”

“The province simply couldn’t cope with the magnitude of the threat — and our emergency services are still not resourced enough for the danger coming our way.

“2017 was by no means an anomaly or a one-off,” Abbott added. “It is something that we have to prepare for every year. There is a world of evidence that climate change is impacting us in a series of profound ways.

“Last year, these shortfalls hampered efforts to mitigate damage. The situation was made worse by an out-of-date paper-based system for handling and compensating evacuees, causing incredible frustration for thousands of people left out-of-pocket as they fled.”

To Learn More:

Download a copy of an article published in the Globe & Mail newspaper, and titled Review of B.C’s response to wildfires, floods recommends new disaster management approach