Climate influences risk factors

Vernon council has been provided an update on the regional emergency program

The potential risk to North Okanagan residents is escalating and climate change may be a factor.

Vernon council has been provided an update on the regional emergency program, and one of the key concerns is a shifting environment.

“Things are getting harsher,” said Brent Watson,  North Okanagan Emergency Management manager.

Among the challenges are extreme drying trends which fuel wildfires or sudden downpours or early snow melts that can lead to flooding.

“Interface fires are our biggest threat and in the region, flooding is also a huge issue,” said Watson.

Presently, firefighters in the North Okanagan are on alert as there’s been limited rain over the last few months.

“We’re going into a dry period with a fire risk,” said Watson.

NOEM is provided under contract by the City of Vernon to all municipalities and electoral areas in the North Okanagan.

“It’s very responsive to the different needs of the different communities,” said Watson.

Among NOEM’s activities are emergency preparedness, site support during an incident, volunteer management and co-operating with other agencies.

“We’re constantly talking to Environment Canada as to when things may happen,” said Watson of weather-related emergencies.

Beyond reacting to major disasters, NOEM staff and volunteers also lend a hand during house fires to ensure displaced residents have access to resources.

In the last six years, NOEM has responded to 2,500 evacuees from the Terrace Mountain wildfire, an H1N1 outbreak, 5,500 people being impacted by contamination of Antwerp Springs in Coldstream,  the Skyline Manor apartment fire in Vernon and the 2014 Cooke Creek washout which cut off Kingfisher.

“Our program is one of the busiest in the province,” said Watson.

The program’s operating budget is $289,000 and each participating community contributes based on its population.

“Vernon pays less than half of the total program costs,” said Watson.