Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tough decisions and difficult times

Courtesy of the City of Quesnel:

With the exception of the Gustafsen Fire that forced the evacuation of 100 Mile House, it’s very important we all remember how quickly this current fire situation came about. As a result of a short burst (really only about an hour long) lighting and windstorm, we went from enjoying the summer heat settling in and preparing for Billy Barker Days to out of control fires and whole communities being evacuated. Our expectations of the decision-makers and their response to the current fire situation has to constantly be moderated by recalling the speed with which our circumstances changed and the massive scope of the challenge that short storm presented them with.

It’s so easy to second guess decision-makers at the best of times, when everyone should be able to access the same information, have time to digest it, and not have any time pressures to make a decision. But, even in those circumstances, the second-guessers will often fail to take into account all the complexities involved in the decision-making process or neglect to account for the law and due process. It’s even easier, ironically, to armchair manage emergency situations, especially with the “help” of social media, because life in a living room is so much calmer than the pressure cooker situation of needing to make decisions with limited or incomplete information, changing data, and imminent threats to life and personal property.

The Cariboo fire situation is extremely complex and very broad in scope, both geographically and with respect to the number of simultaneous major fires threatening multiple communities. It took longer to set up the CRD’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) than it took for Mother Nature to set our forests ablaze. Fire fighting resources then had to be marshaled from all over the province and very difficult decisions had to be made to assign limited resources to multiple fires that were moving quickly and unpredictably. The EOC then came under fire threat and had to be relocated. Fire behavior kept changing. Local weather and wind is unpredictable and directly affected by local fires. Fire fighting, telecommunications, emergency response and other critical resources quickly became stretched thin (people and equipment need downtime too). Yet, decisions still had to be made quickly and as proactively as possible to avoid any catastrophic loss of life and to try to minimize damage to critical infrastructure and personal property.

We should all try to understand that the difficulties confronting these decision makers would make most of us run for the hills. Many of these decision makers became evacuees themselves and had to carry the additional burden of worrying about their own loved ones and their own homes. They deserve our respect and understanding and support, not judgment and condemnation.

I have appreciated the feedback people have given me about the usefulness of my daily Facebook posts and other means of communication about our community’s situation. With Quesnel out of the maelstrom at this time, I have had the luxury of time to parse through all the information coming at me and try to make sense of it for our residents. I have not had to make any time sensitive decisions. So, I’ve had it very easy relative to my counterparts to the south – they have my utmost respect and gratitude for their tireless efforts to protect their communities and keep their residents safe by making very tough decisions during these very difficult times.

Bob Simpson is the Mayor of Quesnel. He can be reached via email here

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