By Jennifer Rice
VICTORIA – When I took on my new role as parliamentary secretary on July 18, 2017, wildfires were sweeping through the Interior, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes and communities.
During that time, I met with British Columbians who escaped their homes with little more than the clothes on their back. Many were without identification. Many were without medications, and had no way to contact loved ones. It was a sobering lesson: emergency preparedness can save lives and livelihoods. It can determine who survives and who doesn’t, who will emerge relatively unscathed and who will lose everything.
We’ve used the term “unprecedented” when talking about the 2017 wildfire season in B.C., and for good reason. More than 65,000 British Columbians were forced from their homes. Hundreds of buildings were gutted, while more than 1.2 million hectares were incinerated in wildfires that consumed an area more than twice the size of Prince Edward Island.
READ MORE: Reporters reflect on the 2017 wildfire season (Dec. 28, 2017)
The past summer also taught me that disasters disproportionately affect those who already inhabit the socio-economic margins: the elderly, First Nations communities, single-parent households and other vulnerable populations. In this, B.C. is not alone. The World Bank notes that disasters are a major driver of poverty – they can tip entire populations into dependence and want.
As we cast our gaze into the coming years, it is critical to examine what has just passed. 2017 was marked by floods in Asia, in Europe and here in B.C. In Mexico and Iran, residents will remember 2017 as the year the Earth shook. These events should remind us that we cannot be complacent in the face of all that nature may throw at us. These past 12 months saw record heat waves and prolonged droughts all over the world – something that scientists warn will become the “new normal’ as we head into the coming decades.
So what can we do? What can you do? For starters, we need to cultivate resilience. And just what, you may ask, is that? Resilience refers to the capacity to recover from difficulty. In the lexicon of emergency preparedness, it means the ability to rebound from disaster – be it an earthquake, a wildfire, a ferocious storm or an oil spill.
So how do we do that?
Be prepared. Develop a household emergency plan and share it with your relatives, neighbours and friends. Assemble or buy an emergency kit that can sustain you and your household for seven days. Retrofit your house to minimize damage following an earthquake.
If you own a business, develop a continuity plan to ensure that if one of you is injured, or worse, another can take over. This can make the difference between whether your business collapses or survives. All of us rely on the resilience of small businesses as the very foundation of economic stability – especially following a crisis.
It is truly up to all of us.
As you consider your New Year’s resolution, I urge you to join me in making a commitment to emergency preparedness. For more information, please visit: www.gov.bc.ca/PreparedBC
I wish you a safe and happy holiday season.
– Jennifer Rice is B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness