First Nations call for better alert system, more funding after slow flood response

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Published December 9, 2021 at 4:57 pm

VANCOUVER — The executive director of the First Nations Emergency Management Society is calling for a more integrated alert system and funding after it took days to co-ordinate and reach remote Indigenous communities cut off by recent devastating floods in British Columbia. 

Wayne Schnitzler said the implementation would streamline communication and emergency response between the agency and its provincial and federal partners, and better prepare remote communities for disaster.

Up to 42 First Nation communities were affected by the last month’s floods, but because the society is not heavily funded by Indigenous Services Canada until a disaster occurs, he said it leaves them scrambling to organize and respond. 

Schnitzler said it took days to get organized enough to start helping isolated communities with resources and supplies.

“We’re working on getting more funding so we can have better capacity to deal with these issues ourselves,” Schnitzler said. “It’s difficult to put together a team in the middle of an emergency.”

This comes as Emergency Management B.C. warns of another strong storm coming for several parts of B.C. starting Friday. It predicts snow in parts of the Interior and mountain passes, up to 60 millimetres of rain for the Lower Mainland and high winds across much of the province. 

The government said in the statement the weather “may pose further challenges in areas recovering from November’s storms.”

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said in a news conference Thursday that B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway could reopen sooner than expected if the weather co-operates.

“We are confident it could instead reopen in early January. This is remarkable given the scale of damage on the Coquihalla,” Fleming said. 

The highway, which connects the Lower Mainland to the Interior and is a major trucking route, had more than 130 kilometres of roadway damage and five bridges washed away.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald was scheduled to tour some of the flooded areas on Thursday. After the floods, she called for the federal government to immediately fund the First Nations Emergency Management Society, allowing it to deal with the specific needs of Indigenous communities during the crisis.

About a week later, Indigenous Services Canada announced $4.4 million in funding.

The Assembly said the province signed a $29 million Emergency Services Agreement with Indigenous Services Canada in 2018 to provide emergency help to First Nations in B.C. through Emergency Management B.C. They said this included 28 emergency management coordinator positions for First Nations, which have not yet been filled. 

Indigenous Services Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021. 

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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