No household should be without some of this material displayed by Bea Nicholson. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Last year’s storm an initiation for many about emergencies

Helping people be better prepared the mandate of organization

All was calm, all was bright in the lead-up to Christmas last year. That is, until an unexpected weather event literally caught residents by storm in the last few days.

The powerful wind storm that occurred Dec. 20, 2018 and the subsequent power outage that had most Chemainus residents in the dark – literally, again – for at least three days left many wondering what to do about handling the necessities of life as normally as possible in a situation like that.

It was a huge wake-up call for people who’ve never made any contingency plans when confronted with no power, limited access to supplies and the inability to get around as usual due to fallen trees for a long period of time.

The storm was so extensive across the region, BC Hydro crews were tasked with working 24/7 to restore service. In some more remote areas, Hydro crews didn’t even get there for days.

More residents than ever are taking a pro-active approach to being prepared and it’s particularly on people’s minds with the anniversary date of the storm approaching.

The Chemainus Emergency Preparedness Network has emerged during the past year, with several meetings, to help provide some information and answers to pressing questions about how folks can be more prepared.

“Chemainus was severely impacted for up to a week in most cases,” noted Lia Versaevel, chairperson of the Chemainus Residents Association. “Telephone, cable, and hydro lines were down, along with many trees and branches. Power lines were left hanging down as a result. Penelakut Island was cut off for more than a week, due to damage at the ferry landing. Thetis Island, too, was severely impacted.

“I have listened to stories of elderly citizens, as well as younger people, about the impacts they experienced. My analysis shows that Chemainus needs a volunteer emergency response team, hopefully modelled on ones that have existed in other locations for decades.”

There is an abundance of material available to help address concerns. But it need not be overwhelming.

Lorraine Taylor of the CEPN noted there is an emergency booklet with all the required information that’s available at the 49th Parallel Grocery. The organization also has a website in the works that will feature those important details.

Taylor also indicated each neighbourhood in Chemainus should have what’s called a map captain.

Bea Nicholson, who came here at the end of August last year, offers her take on the situation both as a newcomer from Victoria and a member of the CEPN.

“As with many people, it came about with the storm last December and I didn’t know what to do and got interested,” she explained.

“I wanted to know what to do and I was kind of surprised by the shock I felt during that storm and the scare of it. My friend and I got caught in it.

“I wanted to be prepared and went looking for information and came across this group.”

The extent of the damage that can occur in these storms struck a chord with Nicholson, who lives in Chemainus Gardens and has many neighbours nearby.

“Certainly power lines falling down on the road, that was very worrisome,” she conceded.

“I’d only been here a little while. I didn’t know people well enough to knock on doors. Now I know more people.”

A couple of important points the CEPN stresses is to take care of yourself, but also to check on people who might need extra assistance.

Nicholson is putting her expertise to work on the website and also noted Taylor is the email contact at office@chemainusepn.ca.

The biggest thing the group has encountered is “getting people accustomed to talking about it,” said Nicholson. “It’s not about being frightened, it’s about being ready.”

Even in her car, Nicholson carries what she calls her “Malahat box.”

“I actually carry water, a couple of cans of soup that don’t need a can opener, a small sleeping bag,” she noted.

“I carry it around in my car all the time. You don’t know where you’re going to be during an incident.

“This isn’t a new thing, although we tend to think we have our cell phones and there’s 911. If there’s another incident like we had in December, everybody’s going to be busy. The emergency workers are going to be taking care of the bigger things.”

The map captains, alluded to earlier, serve an important role in the event of long outages by taking on the responsibility of sharing information on their street.

The map captains differ from Block Watch to respect people’s privacy, according to Nicholson, because it’s about much more than just calling police or watching out for each other.

“We need lots more,” she said. “We’re doing our best to keep track of who’s who. We’re all volunteers. This is about looking out for our town and our people.”

There’s no need to become a member of the CEPN that’s under the umbrella of the Residents Association, but Nicholson said it’s a good idea “to just be on the list to get information when we send it out.”

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Henry Road in Chemainus during last year’s storm with trees and powerlines everywhere. (Photo by Justin Douglas)

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