Fraser Valley rural areas still lack detailed evacuation plans years after audit warning

The Fraser Valley Regional District was told in 2019 that its program was insufficient, and has reinvigorated its attempt to come into compliance.

By Grace Kennedy | March 2, 2022 |5:08 am

When disaster struck last November, the Fraser Valley Regional District’s emergency management program fell short of meeting provincial requirements.

Its evacuation planning needed to be better. A key document analyzing hazard risk hadn’t been updated for 14 years. And other vital emergency planning documents didn’t consider the possibility of landslides in the Chilliwack River Valley and rural areas around Hope, where slides forced residents to evacuate and closed roads last year.

The FVRD, which acts as a local government for residents in the valley’s eight unincorporated rural areas, knew of its emergency shortcomings, and had been working to correct them since 2019. But when the November storms hit the Fraser Valley, they still hadn’t managed to fix all the cracks in their emergency management system—many of which had been identified by the Auditor General for Local Governments two years earlier.

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In 2019, the Auditor General found FVRD was not meeting expectations on 29 different emergency management items. The FVRD did not have an emergency program coordinator. It didn’t have a coordinated program to deliver food, shelter, clothing, and medical services to residents in the event of an emergency. It didn’t have service bylaws that were detailed enough to provide adequate service to residents. And its emergency plans were out of date, and staff didn’t know where to find them—or that some of the plans existed at all.

After the audit, the FVRD began restructuring and upgrading its emergency management department. It hired a full-time emergency management coordinator, adopted the Alertable app, and updated its emergency management regulations bylaw. It is currently in the process of upgrading its emergency operations centre, and has established an overarching committee to oversee emergency work.

Now, after more than 5,000 rural residents were evacuated from their homes last year, the FVRD will be putting more effort into completing the remaining 2019 audit recommendations.

“We are living in a changing environment…In my time with the regional district I have seen more EOC mobilizations in the last five years than probably in the 10 preceding years,” director of planning and development Graham Daneluz said during the FVRD’s budget meeting.

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The five-year financial plan will see a nearly 60% increase in emergency management spending, or roughly $92,000 in 2022 alone. The money will be spent on revamping the out-of-date Hazard Vulnerability and Risk Assessment, creating area-specific evacuation plans, and supporting new contracts for emergency social services.

The FVRD will also hire a new emergency employee, who will be available part-time to support the existing full-time staffer.

The five-year financial plan also aims to tuck away more cash for emergencies—something Daneluz said was particularly important given the experience from the most recent storms. In 2021, there was approximately $277,000 in unused funds from previous budgets.

“That effectively is our cushion for emergency management costs not being covered by the province,” he said. “We incurred a whole lot of costs over the last few months, the majority of which will be covered by the province, we hope and expect.”

It’s unclear how long that will take. Daneluz said the FVRD is still trying to get the province to cover costs from a destructive storm in early 2020.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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