A public safety project is hoping to find traction after spending the past several years spinning its tires.
The Coast Smart project, which began as CoastSafe in 2013, was armed with $800,000 worth of federal funding to increase coastal safety in the region but it limped out of the gate, according to the project’s manager Tim Webb.
“The money came in a couple of years ago but got off to a very slow start and there were some different directions it took,” Webb told Ucluelet’s council during a recent regular meeting.
“I was brought on at the end of last year, in November, to help manage the project and to make some things happen, so the project is basically starting out now.”
He said plans are being worked out and contractors are being sought to complete the project by next year’s deadline.
“The project has to be completed by the end of March 2017 so that’s a lot of work; we’re a little bit late in getting this started. It’s unfortunate but that’s where we are,” he said
“This is a pilot project on the West Coast…It’s been funded by the federal government; they’re interested in seeing ultimately something that’s national with the West Coast here being the start.”
He said the project’s budget allows for the design, creation and installation of new educational safety signage and the first task would be to secure a contractor to complete a risks assessment of local beaches, shorelines and access points so that a signage plan can start coming together.
“We don’t want to have clutter, we want to have appropriate signage,” Webb said. “There’s quite a mish mash of signs right now across the region, in some places there’s little or no signage in other places there’s perhaps too much signage it’s cluttered and it’s hard to see what’s going on.”
He suggested the Pacific Rim National Park’s wave hazard signs need an upgrade.
“It’s kind of a limited use right now. It tends to be quite high all the time and people aren’t quite sure how to interpret that so the idea is to make a slightly richer hazard rating,” he said.
He said coordinated safety signage would help locals and visitors make safe decisions.
“The intent here isn’t to scare people. The intent here is to give people alternatives so that when the weather is particularly bad, and people want to go storm watching, they’re given alternatives, safe places they can go,” he said.
“We’re attracting people to this region to come surfing to go storm watching, to walk on the beaches and to travel on rocky shores, even if we don’t necessarily recommend some of these things, people are traveling on rocky shores.”
He suggested evolving amenities are providing tourists with increased access to shorelines.
“The Wild Pacific Trail is a fabulous amenity for the community and for tourists but it does provide people with access to some fairly scary places when the weather is bad,” he said.
He said the project’s new signage would bring visitors up to speed on dangers locals already know about.
“The problem we have is that many of our visitors don’t really understand the very dynamic nature of the Coast,” he said.
“As locals we’re all aware of the way the waves can surge up, both on the beaches and on rocky shores, and how it can be very unexpected when larger sets come in and how, when the tides are high, the waves run all the way to the top of the shore and can float logs and things like that and cause injury.”
He said incidents are occurring regularly along the Coast.
“We don’t really have a very good estimate of exactly how many incidents are happening because there scattered amongst different agencies. Our estimate is that in the last 20 years there’s been about 20 fatalities along the Coast…Incidents are happening and we want to educate people,” he said.
“We want to reduce the calls for emergency services, reduce the number of incidents, identify gaps in response capabilities and support future initiatives to fill those gaps…We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, where there are existing things going along we want to support and enhance those.”
He added educational materials will also be looked at and could be used elsewhere.
“The idea here is to be as flexible as possible and developing materials that can be used in different ways, we want to have materials that can be used in schools for example,” he said.
“The ideal is that people that are involved in the tourism industry have this information and have this knowledge so that when they’re approached by tourists or other people interested in learning about safely recreating on the coast they have that information to pass on.”
He said response capabilities were originally included in the project’s scope but would likely be pushed off the desk.
“This project initially had quite a lot of focus on developing some new response capabilities. That’s really been cut back in the current version of this project,” he said adding the risk assessments done could help identify training or resource gaps.
“Do we have the right training, the right equipment, the right people to deal with the types of incidents that we are likely to see in the coming years?”
He noted the Pacific Rim National Park’s surf guard program was nixed in 2012.
“In days gone by when there was the surf guard program some of the rental shops and so on would send people to the Park where they knew they were being supervised if they were novices, but that’s not there anymore so the question we’re addressing is how do we inform people and educate them to make safe decisions,” he said.
He said a steering committee was struck to help guide the Coast Smart project and three meetings have been held since November. The committee’s key players are Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers, Ucluelet’s emergency and environmental services manager Karla Robison and Randy Mercer of Parks Canada.
Webb said local chambers of commerce are also involved as are businesses like Long Beach Surf Shop and Surf Sister.