Recently, reporter Emily Plihal talked about her personal experience with a wildfire that came close to her own farm. During the same fire many neighbours and friends suffered losses. (link https://www.southpeacenews.com/wildfires-2023-1-persons-account/)
It is not an experience anyone should go through. Today, many Albertans face the fact they might be next in line if they have not already been through similar experiences. Without friendly rains, determined fire fighting, and softer winds, many, many more of us would even now be part of the displaced or among those who lost animals, pets and property already.
This is a difficult message, not just to city politicians, but even to our own local politicians. It’s understandable. Being safe costs money. It is also too easy for the “tough guys” at city hall to pooh-pooh scaredy cats.
Countless movies have leaders who refused to evacuate because they “didn’t want to panic people.” It isn’t just movies. It happens everywhere. Nobody wants to look stupid. Nobody wants to look like they ran scared and pushed the panic button themselves.
Usually, one would say the answer to this is training and education. Emergency preparation seminars are constantly available. Yet many electeds are “too busy” or figure they already know everything so don’t attend. Besides, “professionals” can be counted on, right?
Which might help explain why 400 terrified people assembled in the Walmart parking lot in Slave Lake in 2011. Trapped with every highway out of the fire zone blocked by smoke and flames. A secretary in the town office said on telephone, “I don’t know what to do. We were told to get to the Walmart parking lot. Smoke is so thick I can’t see six feet in front of me. I don’t know what I would be driving into.”
Answers to what she might face can be seen in videos of people driving through flames as they abandoned Fort McMurray in 2016. Or Edson a few weeks ago in the first evacuation.
Emergency preparation is always on the back burner. So comes an ice storm that, in the case of Quebec, had power service off for weeks, not days, in some communities. Floods in so many places like in High River or Canmore or Peace River. Rising sea levels. Or even a pandemic like Covid-19 that hit everyone. It is an enormous job.
Call these slow motion disasters as opposed to say, a tornado, a huge explosion, a terrorist attack, or a toxic truck crash or train derailment.
It is sometimes said, insurance companies, no matter how they try to offload the cost of storms or disasters of any nature, simply must face the fact one big event could put them totally out of business.
A case can be made that government bailouts create “moral hazard” – the idea that government can, and will, always backstop failure to prepare.
And of course, the idea that being prepared costs money. But other communities and people who don’t prepare get covered anyway. It’s a big job just talking about all this.
No solace for those staring at a wall of flames blocking their path to safety, or watching floods sweep away their homes.
by Jeff Burgar