As things heat up: Are we ready?

With warmer weather comes renewed concern for a myriad of emergency preparedness and water conservation measures. Empathy and concern for Fort McMurray fire victims are strong as we remember our own Garnet fire in 1994, the Kelowna fires in 2004, or last year in Oliver and West Kelowna. It is a normal inclination for our minds to wonder - what if that was us? What would you pack if you had one hour to evacuate your home? We know that we should have all of our important documents already in a safe place, but how many of us actually have our key information that identifies us or our assets handy in one safe and secure location? Would that be your priority in that one hour?

On May 29th our Fire Department is hosting a Fire Smart information session at 12:30 in the park at Sendero Canyon (2047 Lawrence Ave). This free session is to help educate the community on being fire smart and proactive with respect to their property, nearby fuel, and combustible materials. In the case of an urban interface wildfire, the lack of site preparation and fuel load can be a contributing factor when prioritizing response locations. The responsibility lies with the homeowner to make a Fire Smart home. If you are interested in learning more, this session is a great starting point.

Readiness is an essential part of making the right decisions when disasters occur. I wanted to share that the City regularly conducts emergency preparedness workshops and hands-on table top exercises where mock emergencies are simulated. Last week, key managers and personnel took a day out from their busy schedules to set up the EOC (Emergency Operations Command Center) and went through all the stages on how to deal with a flood scenario. It was a fast paced day that saw decisions and protocols ‘enacted’ covering everything from front line workers, to evacuations, to business continuity, to communication, and dealing with the aftermath. This was a good exercise to learn from and ensure we are ready, and prepared.

Another event last week built up the theme of preparedness but more on the prevention side. The Okanagan Basin Water Board kicked off their water wise campaign. www.makewaterwork.ca is an excellent resource to learn about tips on conserving water, lawn tips and xeriscaping. If you haven’t yet encountered ‘zeroscaping’ it is not the cactus and concrete image that the word first conjures. Check out our xeriscape demonstration garden on Marian Way Park if you want to be inspired by lush spaces that are water-wise. Last year because of the drought conditions, the City increased water restrictions and asked residents to reduce consumption by 20%. My wife and I responded by not watering a portion of our lawn and brown became the new green. Letting your grass grow to 2-3 inches, leaving the clippings to mulch, and watering during the night also help create a healthy lawn. I didn’t know that most lawns only needs about 1 inch per week of water.

It seems inevitable that our region will continue to get dryer and hotter, so we need to be mindful of our water consumption. I talked about outdoor use, but many still haven’t mastered indoor waste. How many still leave the tap running as we brush our teeth? If you think about how much water is wasted with long showers, watering the sidewalk, or running a half full dishwasher. I’m sure each person could probably conserve 1 litre per day. One litre per person doesn’t sound like much by itself, however if you factor in that Penticton has around 34,000 people then all of a sudden 34,000 litres a day being conserved is a big number and substantial difference.

The hotter climate does have some positive benefits such as newer crops that we can grow, longer harvest season, and generally most people prefer warmth over cold. It will take a shift in our behaviours to adapt to the new realities of being fire smart, prepared for the unexpected, and conserving our most precious resource (water). I do however challenge you to do something different this week towards this worthwhile goal.