PRRD wants provincial oversight on response to Old Fort landslide

The Peace River Regional District will be asking the province for help to monitor and assess its response to the Old Fort landslide.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, the district board approved sending the request to top officials in the public safety ministry, which oversees emergency management in B.C. The board wants to get proper guidance on following the province's emergency management plan and co-ordinating response efforts now and in the future, said board chair Brad Sperling.

"We're looking for someone right from head office to come up and observe what is happening in this type of an event. It's not a fire and a flood, it's completely different," Sperling said.

"We're looking for help to help guide us so if and when, hopefully it never does happen again, that we don't make these same mistakes."

The Old Fort community has been under an evacuation order since Oct. 7, and residents have vented their frustrations about the regional district's decisions and communications.

Both residents and the regional district are waiting for a final report from Westrek Geotechnical Services, which has been studying the landslide and will recommend to the board whether its safe for residents to return. 

Regional district staff have been pulled off their regular duties to help run an emergency operations centre, responsible for prioritizing and allocating resources, co-ordinating support services, and managing communications. Board directors do not sit in on EOC meetings, and don't have decision making power within them, according to Sperling.

Having provincial oversight in the room to observe and debrief the board will help determine what future training supports the regional district needs to provide for its staff, Sperling said. It will also help the province get a sense of how to improve its emergency operations and co-ordination with local governments, he said.

"We have fallen down on communications, but what are we doing wrong? Have we trained our people, and got them all the training they need?" Sperling said.

While board directors are given a general orientation of their roles and responsibilities, they aren't trained in emergency management, Sperling said.

Sperling said he will be asking the board to take a separate review of the regional district's emergency response system, noting the landslide marks the third major emergency over the last three years, following the wildfires and floods in 2016.

"It's time to do it as more and more of these emergencies seem to be getting more frequent and larger," he said.

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