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Prepared for disaster

May 15, 2012
Goldstream News Gazette
Charla Huber
Article Source: Read the Original Article

A group of Royal Roads University students was so impressed with Metchosin's disaster management programs, they nominated the municipality for a United Nations designation as a disaster-resilient community that can serve as a role model to other cities around the world.

If selected Metchosin could help communities around the world be better prepared for disasters.

The RRU students have spent the past three weeks turning Metchosin upside down to see what the small community could withstand as far as disasters go.

The 14 students are sending their report and a short film documenting their findings to the UN.

Metchosin's disaster awareness programs blew the students away, who were unsure of what they would expect from the small community.

"We found an impressive, impressive amount of volunteerism," said RRU student Daniel Burgi, a firefighter from Maple Ridge.

Last year, between Metchosin Emergency Social Services and the fire department, volunteers accumulated 19,000 hours of service.

"I thought it was a typo and had to double check," Burgi said. "And that is just a piece of the volunteer work in the community."

The students praised Metchosin for its work on maintaining roads and replacing old bridges. They were also very impressed with bylaws limiting development in riparian areas, on slopes and near shores.

The Metchosin Community House was built to double as a comfort centre with a kitchen and shower for community use.

The schools in Metchosin, as well as the Boys and Girls Camp, are also designated areas for residents to go in event of disaster.

Burgi also noted that residents unofficially open up their homes to neighbours in need of shelter.

The Disaster and Emergency Management master's degree students also prepared suggestions for Metchosin to improve its disaster management. Ideas included having residents participate in a wood stove exchange program.

"Residents could exchange an old wood stove for a higher efficiency stove," said RRU student Nils Gorseth, a firefighter from Vancouver.

Using more efficient stoves has both environmental and disaster management benefits.

"Any safety measures you take for your structure helps influence disaster management," said Stephanie Dunlop, Metchosin fire chief and emergency program manager. "Even a simple spark from a compromised chimney could cause in an interface wildfire."

Other suggestions were to use the fire department's siren to alert the community of a disaster. Currently, it's used to notify volunteer firefighters of an emergency.

However, Dunlop is concerned the single tone is heard often and residents may ignore if it were used for a disaster. She has looked into getting a multi-tone siren that could be heard across the district.

Mayor John Ranns appreciated that many of the students suggestions could be done at little or no cost.

"If you look at the pictures on the wall you can see I have been around her for a while and I have read a lot of reports," said Ranns. "Your recommendations are things we could actually do. I think this will enhance our community."