Tofino eyes emergency communications strategy

Tofino is hoping to roll out a new emergency communications strategy and is on the hunt for a volunteer willing to put the wheels on.

Tofino’s municipal council has agreed to attach a $5,000 stipend to a soon-to-be-launched volunteer position designed to kick-start a district-wide communications strategy for emergency situations.

Tofino’s emergency planning committee had lobbied for the position to be created and believed a stipend was needed because of the high-level nature of the work, according to Coun. Duncan McMaster.

 â€œIt was recognized that, with budget just upon us, it wouldn’t be feasible to employ a full-time person to work on communications and we felt there were some likely qualified people within the community that, if they were offered a small amount of money, we could get to at least start a communications plan,” McMaster said during a recent council meeting.  

 â€œIf we don’t kick-start this now, we’re going to lose another year and it’s been too long anyway so you’ve got to start sometime. We have a responsibility to the people in case there ever is a tsunami, or something like that, so we felt this was a good start and we envisage that, next year, you could see a recommendation for a full-time emergency coordinator.”

Emergency planning falls under the umbrella of Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers who told the Westerly News he hoped to have a description of the position in place and being advertised within the next month.

He noted the district does not currently have a policy for hiring volunteers but he would look to best practices used in other communities.

 â€œIt will be a higher level standard because of the nature of the work,” he said. “It’s a pretty serious job.”

He said the new position would focus on community outreach and bringing locals up to speed on what to pack in their grab-and-go bags and where to evacuate to in an emergency.

 â€œThe biggest thing we can do, to help us all in the case of emergency, is to be personally prepared and the whole point of this position is to get that message out there,” he said.

He said personal preparedness is key and Tofitians must be prepared to handle at least 72-hours of survival in an emergency event.  

The new volunteer could also help the district figure out how to handle non-emergency situations where Tofitians might be confused about whether or not to panic.

 â€œThey may help us develop some policies or procedures around how to communicate to the public when something’s happened that’s not actually an emergency,” he said adding the district recently went through a non-emergency event after an earthquake hit nearby. 

 â€œWe didn’t put out a lot of information to the community because there was no emergency so there was no emergency communications, but thinking back on that we realized there was still a vacuum there for information.”

He said the district’s willingness to shore up a stipend for the incoming volunteer signals an increased focus on emergency preparedness and he noted there has been talk about re-establishing Tofino’s currently defunct emergency coordinator position.

“I would suggest that allocating $5,000 to a volunteer communications person is an indication of us ramping up our capabilities,” he said.

 â€œOne topic of conversation for the committee is whether perhaps we might be needing an emergency program coordinator and I think part of this (volunteer) emergency communications position is, sort of, a precursor to that.”

The emergency program executive committee was struck in late 2014 and is comprised of municipal councillors, district staff, local emergency personnel and concerned citizens.

The $5,000 stipend will be taken out of 2015’s tsunami siren fund contribution and will not increase the emergency committee’s overall budget.

Tofino currently has two tsunami sirens and is saving up for a third, which will cost an estimated $80,000 to install, according to Rodgers.

He said Tofino’s tsunami siren fund is up to $55,000 as $20,000 has been set aside in each of the past two years and $15,000 will be added to the kitty this year after the volunteer stipend subtraction.

 

Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca