The District of Houston aims to increase its capacity to respond to emergency situations.
Houston council has recently authorized district staff to apply to the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund for a grant of up to $25,000.
If forthcoming, the grant will allow the district to create a temporary contract position to help with the recruitment and retention of emergency support services (ESS) personnel in Houston.
Volunteer ESS personnel provide shelter, food and a shoulder to lean on when disaster forces people out of their homes.
According to Houston’s chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck, currently the district only has two ESS personnel – one of which is the ESS director, who’s the district’s manager of leisure services.
Houston’s manager of leisure services is currently responsible for all aspects of the ESS function for the district, including recruitment of volunteers.
According to the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), ESS volunteers are needed across the region. The RDBN has had to respond to emergency situations within municipal boundaries because of a lack of local capacity.
When asked why it’s so difficult to attract and retain ESS volunteers in rural areas such as Houston, Pinchbeck said that’s a question the district has also been trying to answer.
“We suspect that the volunteer nature of the position and time commitment to take the training is a major deterrent for most people,” he said. “Additionally, volunteerism across Canada has been declining, and that may be a factor affecting the recruitment of ESS personnel.”
Meanwhile the RDBN has been working with local governments to develop a joint approach to emergency response in the region.
If the strategy is implemented, all ESS teams in the region would have similar procedures and training. As a result, the ESS teams would be interchangeable throughout the region, allowing for the rotation of ESS volunteers to respond to larger events.
However, Pinchbeck said it could still take some time before this strategy is implemented.
“This is a continuing point of discussion between district and RDBN staff, and has not been finalized by either party,” he said last week.
According to the RDBN, anyone with no criminal record and a desire to help their community can become an ESS volunteer. People with full-time jobs can also become volunteers, even if they cannot respond during work hours.
There are no costs to the volunteers to attend training. Mileage costs incurred when volunteers are traveling to and from training are reimbursed. In addition, all ESS volunteers receive liability insurance coverage while on assignments.
For more information on how to become an ESS volunteer, contact the RDBN at 250-692-3195.