B.C. must shore up risk-crisis communications before, during, after wildfires: report

Wildfires slow flow of info

A report examining British Columbia's response to the record-setting wildfire seasons of 2017 and 2018 says improving communication with communities at risk of fire will save properties and lives.

The report from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., makes six recommendations, including ensuring remote and Indigenous communities have robust communications systems in place where emergency officials can relay fast and accurate information about wildfires.

Prof. Michael Mehta, who led the study, says improving internet services to remote communities or at least supplying local officials with a satellite phone to communicate prompt wildfire information offers better protection.

While the study didn't look at B.C.'s recent wildfire season, Mehta says the fire-ravaged communities of Lytton and Monte Creek faced communication challenges, where residents weren't getting the information they needed to get out.

Mehta says communication also needs to be extended to helping people after fire sweeps through their community because anxiety levels are elevated and victims need to know how to make the right decisions.

B.C. Wildfire Service executive director Ian Meier says the service has the report and is committed to continuous improvement.

A 2018 report by former B.C. cabinet minister George Abbott and hereditary chief Maureen Chapman called for an overhaul of the province's disaster response, including improving communications gaps and relations with First Nations.

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