Fired Oliver ESS director says B.C’s digital evacuee registration is stalling emergency response times

System a 'total disaster'

A provincial registration tool aimed at ensuring evacuees have timely access to emergency services is actually bogging down response times, claims Oliver's former director of Emergency Support Services.

Bill Morrison, former volunteer director of the Town of Oliver Emergency Support Services, was handed a letter of termination in March over the mandated tool he says is a “total disaster.”

The Evacuee Registration and Assistance tool, used by emergency services across B.C., registers evacuees and provides them with access to emergency supports for 72 hours. Those who are displaced need to be processed before they are connected to resources like accommodations, clothes, food, e-transfers, and other essentials.

“As soon as I pushed too hard with that, I think that's where my firing came in,” Morrision says. “There's people waiting for and sleeping in their vehicle for four or five nights because they can't even get in the door [to evacuation centres].”

ERA stalling ESS

At the best of times, the former director claims ERA takes 45 minutes to complete. Similarly, the Kelowna ESS team says it takes them anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to fill out the online form.

Those with a BC Services Card can self-register ahead of an emergency, speeding up the process. Still, evacuees have to complete a needs assessment before getting emergency services.

Morrison says evacuee processing previously took 20 minutes when done manually. Other ESS teams are also feeling the crunch.

“It has an effect on the timeliness of providing the services," said Jason Bedell, Emergency Support Services Supervisor for the Regional District of Central Okanagan.

“ESS heavily relies upon volunteer resources, so when it takes 45 minutes to process one family, you can see how when you have large scale events, it does back up.”

The former director says he attempted to scan the manual form and upload it digitally to speed up the process, but that eventually fell through with the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness’ latest mandate.

Meanwhile, Central Okanagan believes improvements to the system are coming. After providing feedback to the ministry, it thinks its concerns have been heard.

Modernized emergency management

In 2020, during physical distancing measures, the province announced roll out of the digital ERA tool. Municipalities gradually moved on from paper processing over the last few years.

More recently, in November of last year, B.C. introduced the Emergency and Disaster Management Act, effectively overhauling emergency management across the province.

In-line with modernization efforts, the province is expected to bring in more digital changes. Doing so, the province promises modernization will ensure more streamlined and timely access to services during a disaster.

Rebuilding Oliver's ESS team

In response to Morrision being let go, the Town of Oliver’s chief administration officer, Wayne Anderson, says the Town is moving alongside the modernization requirements set out by the province.

Since Morrison was terminated mid-March, roughly half of the volunteer ESS team has also left the force. The Town has confirmed 10 of the ESS team remain. In the meantime, Oliver’s emergency program coordinator, Adam Goodwin, is filling in as acting ESS director.

“We are in the process of trying to build the team to more members, and the members that are on the team — to make sure that they have the training required to be able to take on director role,” Anderson says. “It might be one director — It might be combination of a couple of people that take on that role.”

With a smaller team to respond to emergencies, Morrison says he believes ESS will continue moving towards digital solutions, like virtual reception centres.

For the time being, ESS teams recommend that residents self-register with ERA ahead of any emergency.

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