New ministry launching 18-month review of B.C.’s emergency management strategy

Click to play video: 'Province assessing emergency management strategy'
Province assessing emergency management strategy
WATCH: The province is assessing whether it needs to take over during major weather events like the snow storms we're seeing this week Premier David Eby just created the new ministry of emergency management and climate readiness earlier this month, and Minister Bowinn Ma is already getting down to business. Richard Zussman has more. – Dec 22, 2022

As extreme winter weather batters parts of British Columbia, the province’s new minister of emergency management and climate readiness is facing her first real test on the job.

But while Bowinn Ma says her newly-created ministry is ready to help coordinate emergency response on the ground, in the background it’s working on a province-wide risk, hazard and vulnerability assessment with an eye to climate adaptation.

“To ensure that our government is prepared to support communities through emergencies and recognizing because extremes climate events are more likely to occur as a result of climate change, we need to understand the risks and the hazards that are more likely to behalf our communities,” Ma told Global News in an interview.

“The extreme weather events we have seen over the last two to three years as a result of climate change are likely to become even more severe and more frequent as time goes on.”

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The assessment is will be conducted over a period of 18 months, and will include the coordinating role Ma said the province may increasingly need to play in the face of increasingly extreme weather.

Click to play video: 'Province asks Lower Mainland drivers to avoid travel on Friday'
Province asks Lower Mainland drivers to avoid travel on Friday

It will evaluate the province’s existing emergency response capacity and its ability to work with stakeholders like municipalities, First Nations and other agencies. And it will assess whether during major incidents there are places the province needs to step in to help move resources, be they snow plows or fire trucks, and ensure public essentials like health care and transit are protected.

“We’re going to be taking a look at understanding flood risks and wildfire risks, the impacts of drought and heatwaves and seismic risks as well, and overlaying that with information about where our population centers are, where our key economic corridors are and working with other ministries to anticipate where the infrastructure vulnerabilities are within our province,” she said.

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Under the current system, Emergency Management BC takes calls from municipalities, and provides help when it is requested.

BC Liberal Transportation Critic Trevor Halford said 18 months is too long for the new ministry to get up and running, and said the NDP government has a responsibility to the public to act now.

“The fact is we have seen tragic circumstances when this province isn’t prepared to deal with disasters, the fact is we’re looking at 18 months to figure out how this ministry is going to be operational? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said.

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‘Highways could close at short notice’: Rob Fleming comments on incoming storm

“We’ve got to learn each time we go through this, whether it’s a heat dome, whether it’s flooding or whether it’s a snowstorm. We’ve been caught flat-footed over the last couple of years and the last couple of weeks. This ministry needs to get going.”

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Ma said her ministry will continue to learn lessons from every emergency, including the winter storm anticipated to hit the province Thursday night.

But she said she was confident the assessment will  deliver results that allow the government to make difficult, potentially costly and long-term decisions in the face of increasingly destructive weather.

“While we need to upgrade a lot of our infrastructure our communities rely on, the reality is we’re not going to be able to do it all at once,” she said. “So we need to be able to prioritize.”

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