A rural tourism symposium focusing on wildfire recovery and industry development is underway in Williams Lake this weekend.
Co-ordinated by the Cariboo Chilcotin Tourism Association, “Beyond the Fires,” opened with a reception Friday evening for the 50-plus registered delegates at the Tourism Discovery Centre.
The symposium continues until Sunday noon at the Cariboo Memorial Complex.
Until recent years, B.C. did not have a public education program for emergency management, said Carol McClintock, executive director of organizational learning and public education for Emergency Management B.C., during a presentation Saturday morning.
“In 2014 the auditor general’s report came out and said we needed one,” McClintock said.
As a result, EMBC began working with First Nations and regional districts in the province on a program, she added.
“We knew it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all and that it needed to be something tailored to the communities that we serve.”
From that work, EMBC developed its Prepared BC brand, and worked to get emergency management taught to Grade 6 and 7 students in schools.
“We worked with Amy Thacker, CCCTA CEO and Destination B.C. and in 2017 developed a guide for tourism operators and an emergency plan for tourism operators,” McClintock said, noting in the fall of 2018 EMBC, through a Rural Dividend Fund grant, plans to work on a program to support business continuity and preparedness plans for small businesses.
The focus provincially, she added, is to develop an all-hazards disaster recovery framework.
Disaster financial assistance
Peter Prendergast, senior regional manager for EMBC, said the Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) program was developed to help people who have been impacted by disasters.
“It is a helping hand from the province, it’s not insurance, but it’s out there for small businesses and individuals and pays up to a maximum of $300,000 for eligible costs,” he said, noting some things are not eligible such as a second home.
“One of the painful discussions we often have with people that are not residents of B.C. and have a second home on the Sushwap or something like that. If you have primary home you can go back to, you cannot qualify.”
McClintock said the financial numbers are still coming in, but as of April 14, the province spent $72,977,000 on the spring flooding response in 2017 and $558,000,000 on the wildfires.
A total of 65,000 people were displaced because of the wildfires and 1.2 million hectares burned.
“We had 502 structures impacted and that included 229 homes,” she said.
Eyeing the future
Moving forward EMBC will have to rethink how it does emergency social services, she added, noting during the fires there were 28 ESS centres, eight lodging centres and 62,000 people served.
“This doesn’t take away from the tremendous effort of the volunteers and the work they did in the communities, but there were many key challenges. Since then we’ve hired a lot of new staff and a director for the ESS program provincially to look at a modernization plan for ESS over the next three to five years.”
EMBC’s blog will be strengthened in 2018, McClintock said.
“We know that most people don’t go to our website, but are looking for information quickly.”
On Saturday afternoon the conference will see speakers focus on themes such as post-disaster marketing for tourism operators, tourism emergency preparedness, cannabis legalization and the workplace, and key tourism issues.
Sunday morning will feature a three-panel team discussing marketing and destination development after the wildfires, followed by a presentation by Rita Giesbrecht about a project she and Chris Harris are working on in partnership with the CCCTA focused on telling a story of the region’s resiliency and beauty and the fact it was not destroyed by fire.