I woke up this morning and the first thing I did after putting on the coffee was check the status of the fires. There is very little wind today so that must be a good thing for the fire fighters. It is actually quite sunny, a good indicator that the smoke is either subsiding which means they are gaining the upper hand on the fires, or it going in a very different direction. The bad news is with temperatures on there way up and a predicted high of 28 C degrees today it will complicate the efforts of the fires fighters out there in the bush. However Kelowna is surrounded by forest so fires are part of life. I am sure that is reassuring to the 2500+ people that are currently displaced.
Last evening the winds were so bad they actually took down a tree right outside my dining room window and I didn’t hear it. I keep those blinds closed to avoid too much sun during the day which helps keep the temperature down in my condo. So I wasn’t aware of this until I went out for my evening exercise wheel.
This morning I got to wondering about the emergency planning in the Valley. While living on Vancouver Island many years ago, an area renowned for power outages (an issue when you live on an Island), I approached the Cowichan Valley Emergency Preparedness organization to see if they had a “vulnerable persons registry“. A vulnerable persons registry is nothing more than a database of individuals in the community who may need extra attention. For the sake of emergency preparedness that would include persons with disabilities living independently but dependant on equipment and power to maintain their independence.
This had to be around year 2000 because I was the executive director at the time for the Cowichan Valley Disability Resource Centre. One of the roles of the Disability Resource Centre was to be aware of the needs of their target population. It’s difficult to be a disability resource centre if you don’t know who your target market is and what their needs may be.
I was aware of untold numbers of people who were dependent on oxygen at home but there were many other who were dependent on power based equipment to live independently. Things as simple as power wheelchairs, which require daily charging, to more sophisticated equipment like home dialysis devices which are usually used every second day. A service like home dialysis can be very beneficial when you live in remote areas or one of the smaller islands (even worse for power outages). The Committee members had no idea what I was referring to. I only raise that part because the local health authority played a major role with emergency planning yet seemed less than knowledgeable when it came to the needs of the community.
I had a number of friends who used Diaphragm Pacing Systems for nighttime breathing purposes. Many high level quadriplegics, ALS and advanced MS victims use these types of breathing aides either all day or when lying down. I have a number of friends who are high level quadriplegics who gulp breath when sitting but require a Diaphragm Pacing Systems at night. These devices keep them breathing while they sleep. They are designed to sound an alert in the event of a crisis or power outage complete with, generally, a four hour back-up battery. However I have seen power outages last as long as five days on some of the islands so knowing where the people are should be an important aspect of emergency planning.
Most of them are also dependent on power lift systems to get out of bed or to get in and out of their homes. Things like Angel lifts, electric hoyer and ceiling track lifts allow people to enjoy a level of independence unheard of even forty years ago. CMHC has actually established building policies around these devices but we still need to know where these individuals are located.
If you lose your power for four days I would think you would like to know that the local emergency preparedness people would know where you are. I would also think it would be beneficial to the local first responders to know there was a canister of compressed oxygen in the residence they are entering. These are work place safety issue that could be very important, like in the current forest fire situation here in Kelowna. Even the awareness of service animals could be important.
Well the Cowichan Valley Emergency Preparedness gave me the run around by hiding behind client confidentiality. That’s an argument I have a hard time with considering information is given everyday in the name of national security but can’t be databased for individual safety. To often I hear the client confidentiality argument when it is convenient for the powers that be to avoid dealing with an issue. In reality all the relevant information is already out there.
Government agencies know who they are funding for equipment and support. Every medical supply house in the area have their own customer database, coordinating this information should be pretty straight forward. Particularly for oxygen which requires a regular delivery schedule. Very few of this target group does not have some type of service that has been arranged for visits but may not attend in the event of a major emergency like a forest fire or a storm related power outage. The information is there, it just needs to be coordinated.
So I ask, does the Kelowna and area emergency planning committee have a vulnerable persons registry? Did they have anyone in the fire zone who could have benefited from this type of list? Or are we an after thought!
Just one man’s opinion!