Emergency preparedness under 'continuous improvement' MLA says

One of the elected officials in the eye of the firestorm, as the forests have burned in B.C., is Jennifer Rice.

The two-term MLA for North Coast is also the parliamentary secretary for Emergency Preparedness. She was in Prince George when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with fire officials and toured some of the burning forests of the region. She has been involved in the overall firefighting effort throughout the fire season, and is already looking towards the winter months when she expects to be involved in both the analysis of what just happened and the actions taken to reduce future forest fire problems.

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"It is continuous improvement," said Rice, describing how the provincial emergency system responds to the systemic incidents on our landscape - fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, etc.

"Around preparedness we (as government) know we certainly have to look at fuels management, but we also need to do a better job of reaching out to individual British Columbians about upping their own personal preparedness game," Rice said. "Fortunately 25 per cent of British Columbians have those personal preparedness things in their repertoire. That's a big number that doesn't, so we've been focusing on some organizational learning, some public engagement around trying to get people to think about their own role, because in emergencies we all have a role to play - all levels of government but we also count on individuals to play a role."

She was pleased that the Prime Minister made the trip to the area. She said elected officials have to balance the importance of showing their personal commitment to people in hard times and their interest in the crisis, but also not getting in the way of the actual emergency response efforts or distracting resources.

She does see a role for the federal government to play in B.C.'s forest fire situation, but recommendations have not been solidified yet and that will be the focus of discussions over the winter.

"For some of these communities, particularly in the north, while we have an immanent issue right now, the recovery is going to be a very long time. The economy in the north is very resource-based; the resources are so compromised. We are going to feel the economic impacts for a very long time," she said, and that is part of what all levels of government can work on together, in her view, not just the practicalities of forest management and firefighting.

When asked about those residents in the Central Interior who defied evacuation orders in order to defend their homes, Rice saw two clear points.

"I live along Highway 16. Those of us who live in the north, along that corridor, we are intrinsically resilient, we are self-sufficient, we are independent, and I understand and I'm sympathetic to that culture of wanting to defend your home, and defend your property and your territory, and doing that quite often on our own without the assistance of government," she said. "But I am really concerned about their safety. There are wildfire professionals who make decisions about how we fight these fires, what resources need to be deployed and where. I trust their leadership. They are very concerned about lives being jeopardized. While I sympathize, I really wish they were heeding the advice of the professionals."

It isn't too late and never ill advised to put together a household readiness kit.

Whether there are fires near you or not, those can be assembled and kept at the ready for whatever emergency may come.

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