Lavington safety concerns eased

North Okanagan Emergency Management provides residents with details on activities

Efforts have been made to ease heightened safety concerns in Lavington as the region boasts arguably one of the best emergency management plans in the province.

Some trepidation has been raised by residents in Lavington following the evacuations in the area after a gas main was struck by a car in November.

With a pellet plant moving into the industrial area near the elementary school, some fear safety will further be at risk if a fire or explosion were to occur.

Brent Watson, emergency management co-ordinator for North Okanagan Emergency Management, assures residents and politicians that there are comprehensive plans in place to protect lives in the event of a hazard.

“We have one of the best ones in the province I would argue,” Watson told Coldstream council and a few Lavington residents Monday.

Along with a strong relationship with media, used to get the word out in the event of an emergency, NOEM works well with RCMP, Search and Rescue, Fortis and area firefighters and local government officials.

But the collaboration doesn’t stop there.

Industry also works with area fire departments and NOEM to establish emergency plans of action.

“We have a fire protection agreement with that (Tolko) mill,” said Watson. “It’s well developed so we work side-by-side with industry as well.”

The only groups NOEM does not have jurisdiction over, when it comes to evacuations and care, is school districts and Interior Health agencies.

“They are responsible for their own people and their own evacuations,” said Watson, adding that the school district chose to evacuate Lavington Elementary as a precaution, even though it was not in the evacuation area, during the gas main break in November.

“They chose to evacuate the school when they didn’t need to,” said Trevor Seibel, Coldstream’s chief administrative officer. “It created some unnecessary angst.”

Residents who were not in the 300-metre evacuation area saw the school being evacuated and wondered why they hadn’t received notice.

Meanwhile Coun. Richard Enns appreciated the presentation but has concerns.

“I’m quite pleased to hear there’s so much work that’s been done that may relate to concerns in our area,” said Enns.

But he would like to see more complete information obtained on what is being carried via rail, development of a better hazardous materials response and increased co-operation between industry, school district and first responders.

Watson explained that the rail companies and transport companies have to notify local government of anything flammable coming through, but very little information is actually received.

“We have a lot of product that moves through here,” said Watson, noting a lot of it is flammable.

The top three hazards to the area, in order, are: interface fire, hazardous materials and flooding.

All residents are urged to have a grab and go bag packed at all times in the event of an emergency, which contains necessary medications, water, keys and insurance papers.