The B.C. government has launched an independent review of this year’s unprecedented wildfire and spring flooding seasons, Premier John Horgan announced today.
“Wildfires and flooding this year devastated many areas of our province, displacing tens of thousands of people,” said Horgan. “While we work hard to help the people and communities recover, we also owe it to those people to make sure we learn from the events of the past spring and summer. I’m pleased that George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman have agreed to lead this external review.”
The review team will examine all aspects of the Province’s response to the floods and wildfires of 2017 and will also engage with British Columbians. The team will deliver a report with recommendations before April 30, 2018, that can be used to inform the 2018 spring freshet and wildfire season. The independent strategic review complements the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC evaluations of this year’s operations, which are currently underway.
“What B.C. went through this past year was unprecedented with respect to wildfires and flooding,” said Abbott. “Given the scale of these events and the enormous effort it took to deal with them, this review is an opportunity to take a closer look at what took place and how the government could enhance its response strategies.”
“It’s important to have an independent team look at this year’s flooding and wildfire seasons with fresh eyes,” said Chapman. “The goal is to learn from those experiences and improve the government’s procedures for dealing with these kinds of events.”
George Abbott has a long and distinguished career in public service and a wealth of local and provincial government experience. He served as minister of five different ministries from 2001 to 2012, including the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management from 2004 to 2005.
Maureen Chapman is Hereditary Chief of the Skawahlook First Nation and participates on a number of committees with the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
The historic scope of 2017’s wildfires and freshet events prompted an all-out response by the B.C. government. This included the declaration of a provincewide state of emergency on July 7 that lasted for 10 full weeks — the longest in the province’s history.
“The BC Wildfire Service evaluates its wildfire response and firefighting operations after every significant wildfire season to determine which practices could be improved,” said Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson. “This year will be no exception, and George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman’s review will be a valuable tool to complete that important work.”
Widespread flooding this spring, and a record-setting wildfire season, resulted in numerous evacuations and significant damage to private property, infrastructure and natural resources.
“The dedication and courage exhibited this year by BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC staff, first responders, contractors and countless volunteers was remarkable,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. “Were it not for their professionalism and hard work, this year’s events could have been much worse. We owe it to them to ensure this review better prepares our province for future events.”
- The term “freshet” refers to the movement of water associated with the thawing of ice and snow each spring. This runoff can result in high water levels in streams, lakes and other waterways. Flooding may occur in nearby areas.
- Over 65,000 people were displaced over the course of the wildfire season. As of Nov. 30, 2017, 1,346 wildfires had burned over 1.2 million hectares since April 1, 2017. This is almost 10 times the 10-year average for hectares burned in a fire season (141,064 hectares).
- As of Nov. 30, 2017, direct fire suppression costs for this season (since April 1, 2017) were estimated at over $564 million.
- This year’s freshet and wildfire events resulted in the largest Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) claim in British Columbia’s history, conservatively estimated at $400 million as of Nov. 30, 2017.
BC Wildfire Service: www.bcwildfire.ca
Emergency Management BC: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery
Two backgrounders follow.
Jen HolmwoodDeputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
Media RelationsMinistry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations
and Rural Development
Media RelationsMinistry of Public Safety and Solicitor General
The strategic review of the Province’s emergency management system will examine and assess the provincial and local government response to the 2017 flooding and wildfire events, including the provision of recommendations that can assist the Province in improving upon its systems, processes and procedures.
Specifically, the review will focus on the governance aspects of the system, including statutes, regulations, policy and leadership practices that define the context within which the emergency management system operates.
The review will consider the spectrum of activities that are undertaken across the four phases representing the lifecycle of the BC Emergency Management System.
The review and recommendations will provide overall guidance to the Province on the following key focus areas:
Planning and Preparedness
- Status of assessment of hazard, risk and vulnerabilities
- Status of provincial governance, planning and preparedness levels
- Capacity of the Province to plan for and ensure support to local governments, regional districts and First Nation communities
- Status of local government, regional district and First Nation communities’ governance, planning and preparedness levels
- Resourcing requirements for flood and fire events for all key capability assets
- Review and status of actions taken from the Filmon Report to identify progress and determine whether there are any remaining gaps in implementing the recommendations
Prevention and Mitigation
- Current activities and opportunities for new activities by government and partners, including activities at the landscape level, that could contribute to enhanced prevention and mitigation for natural hazards
- Review of current forest management practices, including but not limited to hazard abatement and harvest age
- Economic costs and benefits associated with existing practices and possible enhanced mitigation practices for natural hazards
- Execution of the 2016 BC Emergency Management System
- Province’s ability to respond effectively and sustain operations over a longer term during major emergency events of provincial significance, including resourcing requirements for all key capability assets
- Province’s ability to effectively support local government response during significant emergencies
- Province’s ability to quickly and effectively secure required resources during critical incidents
- Capacity of local government, regional districts and First Nations communities to respond effectively during major emergency events
- State of co-ordination and communication structures and processes in place within the provincial government
- Co-ordination and communication structures and process with other levels of governments and external partners including but not limited to First Nations, Canada, local governments and regional districts, communities and the public
- Examination of private and public sector best practices to respond to major emergency events of provincial significance, including the identification of tools and approaches that may be effective in the B.C. context
- Current state and capacity for the Province to assist and support communities, businesses and individuals in recovery efforts
The terms of reference are designed to be as comprehensive as possible and the reviewers have the discretion to consider other items that may be brought forward in the context of emergency preparedness, response and recovery.
A final report and recommendations are due to government by April 30, 2018, to help inform government’s actions in advance of the 2018 freshet and wildfire seasons. If more time is needed, government will use interim recommendations.
George Abbott has had a long and distinguished career in public service.
He was B.C.’s minister of Education from 2010 to 2012, minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation from 2009 to 2010, minister of Health from 2005 to 2009, minister of Sustainable Resource Management from 2004 to 2005 and minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services from 2001 to 2004.
From 1996 to 2001, Abbott was deputy house leader for the Official Opposition in the B.C. legislature.
He also served for 17 years in local government, including as director and chair of the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District and a councillor with the District of Sicamous.
Abbott was a sessional lecturer in political science at Okanagan University College from 1980 to 1996 and at the University of Victoria in 2013.
Chief Maureen Chapman:
Shxwetelemel-elhot (Chief Maureen Chapman) has been the Hereditary Chief of Sq’ewá:lxw (Skawahlook) First Nation since 1999. She has a provincial and national reputation as a committed advocate for First Nations self-governance and autonomy, with a particular interest in children, families and women’s health issues.
Chapman was born in Clearwater and has been a teacher and mentor on community-identified issues, both as an educator and as Chief. She has always believed in maintaining family connections as a way of strengthening First Nations and re-establishing cultural ties within communities. As an active Chief in B.C.’s Fraser Region, Chapman is recognized for bringing an honest, fair and practical approach to many difficult issues.
Chief Chapman supports and has been involved with the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples, a 10-point platform that revives nation-to-nation relationships between First Nations and the federal government.