Safety is behind ‘over-reaction’

Former Langley City fire chief explains what goes on behind the scenes in evacuation alerts and orders.

A check of the local news websites has no mention of the river or any concerns about flooding. It looks like we escaped without too many problems again this year. Other than some serious damage to localized crops, the news is good.

But if you stand quietly on 96 Avenue, you can hear the mosquito eggs hatching and they should be here right about the arrival of the hot weather, when everyone wants to wear shorts and T-shirts. Fort Langley mosquitoes are nasty and they have been known to carry away cats and small dogs, but on the bright side, if you are covered in insects, you won’t need sunscreen.

Nature has a way of balancing our lives. If we choose to live by the scenic beauty of a lake or river and enjoy its recreational value and irrigation, we have to endure the threats of floods, bugs and closures that go along with that.

I seem to recall an old Sunday school lesson that warns that “The wise man builds his house upon a rock.”  This is good advice in Langley, unless of course you have to cut down trees to get to the rock.

Comedian George Carlin makes the point, “If you build your house in the shadow of a Kailua volcano, don’t be shocked when you wake up to lava in your living room.”

The point I’m getting to is the inevitable after event interview with a resident who says, “The officials over-reacted; they made a big deal out of nothing. They disrupted our lives and business for no reason.”

I have sat in a lot of command vans, situation rooms, and emergency briefings and, believe it or not, officials are not champing at the bit to evacuate people from any type of emergency. Whether it is flood, fire, or meth lab, there is a huge amount of logistics that are put into play when the decision is made to move people out of their homes.

We have to have a place for them to go, we have to account for them when they arrive, feed them, provide beds and clothing and keep them updated on the situation. We have to look after their medications, their medical needs and their pets and bring in trucks to move livestock. We are fortunate in Langley that our emergency plan is second to none and the staff and volunteers are well trained and exercise the plan regularly. It takes a lot of people to make it work and an evacuation is not called on a whim.

But if the officials ignore the signs and advice and do nothing, the same people are there to tell the world that “nothing was done, we were on our own, where was our help.” Officials would rather listen to people complaining they over-reacted. Coroner’s inquests are not happy events.

I have no doubt that when the final story on the Elliot Lake mall collapse is told, we will hear that a fire inspector or a building inspector recommended closing parts of the mall that would have disrupted businesses and lives. The outcry from business owners would have been loud and long. Too often, dollars override safety.

I offer a famous quote to salute our emergency planning team:  “One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” At least that’s what McGregor says.