Its been an unbelievable few days here in B.C., and more than anything I hope all of you who follow here are safe and dry. Like many,I am stunned by the photos of the damage, and saddened at the loss and destruction to peoples homes and livelihoods. It’s been a tremendously difficult 2 years for so many in BC and I know it seems like just one never ending series of challenges
While stunned at the magnitude of damage, I wish I could say I’m surprised that yet another disaster has happened so soon…but I’m not.
Just over two weeks ago ( October 28th) I posted this blog post warning that “In Nature there is neither reward or punishment, only consequences “. I critiqued the Clean BC update and warned that BC emergency preparedness and infrastructure is not ready for climate change weather extremes. I wrote then:
“So now we have had two completely unprecedented weather events, just 3 months apart. These storms are expected to continue all winter. I, like most islanders, am ready for anything but I would be lying if I didn’t admit I am worried what else may come… the real storm season hasn’t even started. Which is why I, like many others, was shocked at the lack of urgency in the provinces update to Clean BC. Fatalities from extreme weather events really will be a fact of life with this plan pushing even the most basic items (like stopping slash burning) to 2030.”
“The province didn’t take the heat dome warning seriously, the premier admitting he was more focused and giddy over ending the covid state of emergency and opening the economy for summer. And while the lack of urgency in this plan is alarming, it shouldn’t be surprising…”
“We are not ready for climate change, at all….”
“We can’t just keep pretending this isn’t going to impact all of us, in one way or another. We can’t pretend that Hydro power is the most reliable power source in BC when we saw reservoirs run so low a couple years ago after a multi season drought, that we were forced to buy dirty power from elsewhere. The only thing Clean BC is, is a nothing burger that the NDP will punt here and there until the next extreme weather event happens. And when people are left to fend for themselves once again, as happened during the Heat Dome, there will be hell to pay.”
Less than 10 days later after that ( November 7th ) BC politicians patted themselves on the back again and accepted an award at COP26 in Glascow for Clean BC. https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021ENV0068-002116. I was reminded of how Weaver and Heyman applauded themselves back in 2019 when BC announced new rules for climate change accountability. https://lailayuile.com/2019/10/31/while-one-hand-applauds-climate-change-accountability-the-other-continues-the-path-of-fossil-fuel-expansion/
“…Here’s the thing.
Extremes and weird weather events are increasing here in BC and across Canada. Polar vortex. Floods. Fire. Extreme drought and heat waves. Home insurance rates are increasing because of increased claims. Some underwriters aren’t covering certain types of damage anymore. Climate change doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, but its the poor and mid income victims that will bear the burden when these events hit.
Its our governments who will have to fork out emergency relief funds,house people who have lost homes and rebuild critical infrastructure. That’s why addressing climate change is also a social justice issue, so mitigating it and acting faster to enable resilient communities is a must. And yet we continue down the same path here in BC despite it all.”
Just a week after BC’s untimely award and 2 weeks after I express concern about how we aren’t ready for what might come this winter, we see the devastation of floods and slides left by rain that fell so long and so hard one might have expected Noah to appear with an ark to save the animals. And did I mention that just a week ago , a massive waterspout appeared off of YVR, that came ashore as a tornado that caused damage in Vancouver?
No one is driving the Coquihalla anytime soon,maybe not until next summer or later. Its completely destroyed in several places. Highway 1 has significant damage as do rail lines north. Abbotsford is largely under water and so is a good portion of Chilliwack and Yarrow. Many First Nations communities are evacuated and Merritt was completely evacuated and said to be unliveable for the forseeable future.
There are valid questions as to why the province didn’t use their own social media channels last Friday or even Saturday prior to Sundays massive onslaught of rain, to warn people to avoid essential travel. Nothing was posted until Monday on the government facebook page or twitter. Part of the issue might be that we get so many heavy rainfall warnings in fall and winter on the west coast – and most come with built in high stream flow advisories along with warnings of pooling water – that like the heat dome warning our premier didn’t think would be that bad, people don’t take them seriously anymore. If the Premier didn’t think things would be that bad in that example, how do they expect average people to?
This is where Washington state warnings in this current disaster were far better worded and with a higher degree of urgency.
There is also ample evidence to show that the way emergencies in BC are handled when they span multiple communities or regions of the province, doesn’t work for large scale natural disasters. Tyler Olsen has some excellent points on this and again, this isn’t the first time this failure has been demonstrated. We saw this during this summers wildfire season.
For the past 2 days Drive BC remains unreliable to those in areas in the interior according to many trying to get home or to safety. The website has either crashed, lagged and been largely useless to most. A friend who was trying to get to Princeton said updates are 12 hours behind in some cases. Cell coverage has been interrupted by torn fibre optic cables, hampering communication in many areas even outside the flood zones. And last night we saw again an instance of where flood victims trapped by rising water were asked to call 911, all but leaving everyone else hanging in all areas.
Finally, 2 days after the storm, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is expected to call a state of emergency at a noon hour press conference. This too, is a delay that will have costly implications like the loss of livestock in the zones where farmers could not get trucks to take their cattle out. Minister Popham has been MIA according to many farmers online.
People could not understand the hesitancy of the Public Safety minister to call a state of emergency earlier during our wildfires, when communities were begging for help. Nor can anyone understand why they have not done so until now. Let me explain why I think this is the case as simply as I can. The second a state of emergency is called, almost all red tape that currently exists in deploying resources, equipment, personnel, etc., disappears in favour of phone authorization. It allows for seamless crossing of jurisdictional boundaries with resources and it allows government to restrict travel and even seize equipment or property to use if needed.
It also means that the provincial purse suddenly opens wide and money flows freely into anything required to handle the situation regardless of costs. Think that is something any government wants to do quickly? No.
In the current flooding in Abbotsford, one wonders if calling a state of emergency earlier would have allowed government to protect the dairy producers and processors that are a critical part of Metro Vancouver and all of BC’s, supply chain. A state of emergency would have allowed govt to build temporary corrals out of metal rental fencing, load cattle onto rigs and get them out before the water came in. Makes me wonder if anyone in emergency management realizes the importance of agriculture even if only valued as a supply chain asset. Some farmers are being told to dump their milk because there is no where to process it. Those not flooded cant get their products to market.
Kai is right.
There is no ‘back to normal’.
Normal as we have known it most of our lives, no longer exists.
I don’t care if you believe if climate change exists or not, because this extreme weather we have had for several years – and now with increasing frequency in all seasons – isn’t normal. Among my facebook memories that come up is a pattern of extreme weather just in the last 3 years is a 2 year, multiple season drought that resulted in BC reservoirs being depleted to the point they could not generate electricity. We had to buy it elsewhere. Multiple catastrophic wildfire seasons. Storms. Polar Vortex. And this year we have had the record breaking heat dome, the lowest pressure Pacific cyclone ever recorded parked right off Vancouver island, a large tornado, and now this.
But hey…winter is coming. That shoukd be fun. I’m not religious but it makes even me feel like praying we don’t see any more pacific storms for a while. And the chaos we see now, the disorganisation, the technology that is lacking and failing, the loss of power and clean water and worse yet, hoarding and victim shaming and blaming is a keen look into how unprepared we are for something very realistic….a major earthquake. ( I almost fear writing that – last time I wrote about a bad storm coming it happened!)
This is where I switch streams for a bit and talk about what government needs to do better. Like maybe NOT delay this emergency management planning AGAIN. How many disasters do we need to respond poorly to and see again and again how things like 911, Drive BC, social media communications fall apart? 2 times? 3? Enough. Do not delay this any longer. It must be done and it must be done quickly. ( Yes I know quick and government are contradictory terms but whatever)
That the public alert text system isn’t used for anything other than tsunami or earthquake is shameful. That this is how Farnworth responds to people asking why we don’t, is embarrassing for him
It is one way to reach mass populations quickly to mitigate risk. Tech wizards are saying there is no reasonable explanation it should take until next year to implement.
This isn’t 1990 anymore. So many people don’t listen to the radio, they don’t watch TV or susbscribe to cable and get their news through social media or streaming on their devices. So the failure to use every avenue the government had available to prepare people for the severity of this last storm was avoidable. It just makes sense to double down on warnings on the facebook page ( which they are now oddly, even using facebook ads to reach more people. There was nothing posted between Friday and Monday on either)
We also need to look at how media reports on these anticipated events. A big issue on the west coast is that in fall and winter we get a lot of heavy rainfall warnings from Environment Canada, and almost every single one warns of high stream flow, pooling water etc. So while yes, the media reported heavy rain and potential for flooding, it was presented like most other heavy rainfall warnings were. Forecasters however, were clearly saying this was a potential flood scenario and in Washington though, the reporting had an urgent serious presentation and communities did prepare in many areas by sandbagging etc. Washington state uses the term flash flood to give specific warnings more urgency, along with bright red and yellow warning signs in their graphics.
People here also need to know where they can get sandbags, and sandbag stations should be set up and they need to be ready. These are things that need to be broadcast. This is part of emergency preparedness. ( BTW you can buy sandbags empty and fill them at places like Home Depot or Home Hardware)
Now its time to talk about you. About all of us.
You need to be ready for these kind of extreme weather events, no matter where you are. You can’t just assume someone will come to save you right away, because that is not likely to happen. And if you think it is, you will be in for a big surprise. If aircraft can’t fly due to bad conditions, you will be sitting for a while on your own. If roads are impassable with widespread damage in, for example, a large quake, you can only rely on yourself. You need an evacuation plan in case you need to leave .
Every home that can afford to, needs an emergency kit to last 72 hours on their own. Food that can be prepared without heat. Water for everyone including pets. Flashlights, batteries, medication, foil emergency blankets etc. There are lists all over online and I am asking you to actually do this now. Look how long it took them to even think about declaring a state of emergency.
You also need to know how to turn off the natural gas valves to your appliances if flooding or earthquake occurs, and how to turn off your electrical breakers. If it is in your budget, a solar panel or generator is a good investment in storm country or in the north where extreme snow might snap power lines. So is a BBQ, propane fire pit and camp stove. It used to be these things didn’t happen often. We now see extremes of all kinds.
If you have to drive between areas, take an emergency kit for your vehicle. It might save your life if cut off or in a slide. An extra battery for your cell phone, a satellite phone even is a good investment.
But all these things are a privilege for many, and this is something the federal and provincial governments need to assess how to address, because these extreme weather events impact those who can least afford to recover the most. People can’t be prepared if they haven’t got funds – how can you make a kit to live on for 72 hours, if you can’t make ends meet every month in the first place? *If you are able to help those with less resources create a kit, please do so.*
That is community.
The truth is, we really aren’t all in it together. Even government seems to forget that disabled people, seniors and those without vehicles can’t evacuate quickly. And many don’t have huge support systems to rely on. They will get left behind unless someone looks out for them. People like to crap on the military and call to defund them but I doubt anyone of you would turn away a ride in a rescue chopper. People like to crap on people who drive trucks but its the people with 4×4’s in many areas getting people out right now. That’s why its important to get to know your community, your neighbours, so no one is left behind.
I no longer hold a lot of faith in any government and when I say government I mean those who make decisions based on papers a deputy minister or some other bureaucrat gives to them. Decisions leaders make aren’t always their own. To me it comes down to the lesser of evils now, but I do have faith in people. People like the search and rescue teams who risk their lives daily. The first responders and highway workers trying to clear roads and repair infrastructure in dangerous cold conditions. Utility crews, civic employees, emergency management teams…the people who neber get the glory but actually keep this province running. Thank you 🙏 People like the Pizza take out owner in Hope who just started feeding stranded people at his own cost, for free. People like the families who let people shower or wash clothes. Thank you all. Its always average people who rise in every community to do the things that need to be done. We saw it during early days of covid and we see it again now. Here is a great thread on how amazing the people of Hope have been, from someone who experienced it firsthand.
In the best example of all…. while our government debated whether the BC floods merited a state of emergency at all today, a Surrey Gurdwara decided to just hire helicopters to fly food to stranded people in Hope …. beautiful beyond words.
It’s no wonder The Beaverton took a run at Mike Farnworth…..
*update A state of Emergency has finally been declared as of noon Nov.17th. Finally.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP IN SOME WAY THIS IS A LINK TO FUNDRAISERS VERIFIED BY GOFUNDME. USE YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE IN MAKING DONATIONS OR CONTACT ORGANIZATIONS/ PEOPLE DIRECTLY. https://www.gofundme.com/en-ca/c/act/bc-flooding
5 thoughts on “BC Disaster shows we aren’t all ‘in it together’, we aren’t ready & we can’t rely on governments to save us: Why you need to assess your own emergency preparedness today.”
Such a hard post to comment on – so much wrong, so much to say.
I come from a long line of Foresters, my dad was a graduate forester from UBC.
I do know after major forest fires, if the land is not properly prepared, mud-flows and land slides will happen in heavy rain. Clear cut logging leaves the ground bare and leads to mud0flos and landslides in heavy rain. Not dealing with slash properly, ensures it gets tangled in culverts or bridges or catchment areas, creating dams in heavy weather. Logging roads create much more environmental damage than logging railways, but logging roads keep costs down by employing contractors (non union workers) driving the logging trucks.
OK, well we have that off the table.
The diking system in the Fraser Valley has been badly neglected for decades and potential flooding from across the 49th has all been, but ignored. Let us remember, it was the Nookstack river that flooded Abbotsford/Chilliwack and no diking network has been built to contain this.
Then there was the near fiasco of the Barrowtown pump station that keeps Lake Sumas from reappearing. All new and clean looking, there was no back up system and if it failed, the flooding disaster would have had been exponentially worse.
The railways have little subsidy so they maintain their right of ways as best they can and they took a big, big hit. As the trucking industry is heavily subsided, most regional freight goes by truck, but the trucking industry pays little to keep the road infrastructure sound. Private contractors are employed to deal with the highways but the less they do, the more profit they make. They to the minimum that is required.
The end of the story is, the railways did as best as they could and the government did little for the highways because they are not funded to do so.
Oh yes, the former BC Rail Line has been almost mothballed by the CN and government has let them.
Now the politcal side of things, To be blunt, Horgan’s NDP is an environmental disaster, in fact his entire government is a disaster and the it seems the wizard behind the curtain pulling his strings is on Meggs, part of the NDP’s old boys club.
Civic politics also has played their part by building housing on flood planes with out proper diking, or in wooded areas, without any proper water mitigation and retention.
The government failed last weekend and it failed badly and true to NDP form, will not take responsibility as the party believes it shows weakness.
What happened last weekend, the misery, the fear, the deaths, was not caused by Global Warming, it was a disaster waiting to happen due to politcal neglect and the straw that broke the camels back was a torrential rain fall.
The real danger is politcal corruption on one hand and political hubris and ennui on the other. Any politician who says otherwise, should look into a mirror and gaze upon the real villain of this piece.
I can’t wait to see what you have to say about my new post. The one from today.
Not only was there a papertrail history of concern and known risk from atmospheric rivers and pineapple expresses, there were action plans and policy suggestions etc
What was actually done or achieved is unknown yet but much falls on the BC Libs until 2016 and the NDP since.
Yes, let us not forget the Liberals and their wholesaling the province off to their politcal friends. But…………..
Horgan and the NDP were supposed to be a clean slate, a new and improved NDP, while in reality they just took off like 2001 did not happen. No change, no improvement, just the same old NDP, their arrogance and their dogged refusal to accept change.
As Horgan is recovering from cancer treatment, I cannot be too blunt, but………………….
Farnsworth has become the petulant child. You know the type, not my fault, he/she did it. time for him to retire.
The stench of this disaster will dog the NDP right to the next election, sadly not much of it will stick to the Liberals.
We also must put blame on municipal mayors and councils who happily rezoned land for housing so their politcal friends could make a profit, without the infrastructure needed to ensure safety in times of flood.
And another thing and this bothers me badly, censorship of the news. My rail friends in Washington State knew way before we did the massive extent of damage to the rail infrastructure. Whole hillsides collapsed in the canyon; a CPR train derailed near Yale, bridge washouts on both the CPR and CNR routes. Where was our news?
As I was muted by Facebook today for stating a fact (nothing to do with the current situation, rather the cost of the proposed gondola to SFU ~ The offending post “Good question as the total cost is now somewhere North of $300 million and TransLink has a major funding shortfall.”). I can assume that the news is being managed very carefully by government spin-doctors and out local mainstream media have almost completely lost their edge to report real news, no matter how dire it is.
Let us also remember this singular fact, it was a massive weather event that lead to the abandonment of the kettle Valley Railway from Hope to Merrit, as major washouts caused damage so extensive in the late 50’s that the CPR did not do any repair and abandoned that portion of line.
My take away is this, the province could have, should have tried to mitigated the damage done by the fires last summer in the Canyon and the Coq. If they had done so, they could quite rightly claim we tried but the weather defeated us instead or running in circles claiming shock and disbelief, shock and disbelief.
Hindsight is 20/20 but lacking foresight, leaves you totally blind.
Is there enough potable water in Sumas, or for that matter, everyone
Ground Water Wells, Sumas, kml file, opens in Google Earth
The file covers the whole Province
Politicians aren’t experts on anything except getting themselves elected. once elected we expect them to run the province and deal with things they usually have no experience with, i.e. major floods, the history of this province, building on flood plains, even knowing where the flood plains are, the list goes on. The main problem is most of the politicians are urban and most of this province is rural. Most politicians today could not tell you what this province looked like in the 1950s or prior and they never bothered to learn about this province. It is doubtful that too many have driven around the province or gone up logging roads or even know where roads are that aren’t on maps.
The D.M. and senior government officials are usually concerned about what their political masters want and don’t challenge them. They have a career and or a salary to protect–you really can’t blame them for that.
There have been floods in the farm belt of Abbotsford in the past. A few years ago a report recommended improvements to the dykes at a cost of $40M (I think that was the figure). For politicians to spend that kind of money, they’d have to raise taxes and that would get them unelected. People need to understand to prevent things such as the Sumas flood you need to spend money and have an organization.
Moving so many cattle over such distances would be very difficult. Had government or farmers themselves built raised walk ways to move the cattle in times of crisis, it would have saved a lot of cattle’s lives and farmers’ money.
Not declaring a state of emergency, well your comment regarding the “opening of the government cheque book” is one of the chief reasons. The government spent a huge sum on the fires, they still have to rebuild Lytton, they have to increase service in the ambulance sector, they have the pandemic. It is doubtful any one was focused on rain and floods.
Saying the individual cities, towns, etc. were responsible well, its a good political response. If a more senior level of government steps in too early towns and city mayors get upset. The province also does not have a co ordinated organization to deal with these emergencies. At some level we are still in our frontier days, but its 2021 and the government needs to organize for the future. American states have their National Guards who they can call out in emergencies. We don’t have anything to equal that. To have the Canadian military come and help takes time a situation usually doesn’t have. Thanks to Mulroney B.C. no longer has armed forces in Chilliwack, but some one made money on those town houses where the base used to be. Oh, right Mulroney wanted to save money and cut budgets and etc. People agreed, they voted for him, so now they have what they deserved.