Columbia Valley Pioneer staff

The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) has “significant concerns” about the potential impacts of the province’s new Emergency and Disaster Management Act (EDMA).

Last week protective services manager Christina Carbrey presented a report that outlined proposed changes and expected challenges that the RDEK will face when the regulations come into effect in 2024.

“There are significant concerns around the increase in responsibilities, requirements, and expectations that are being placed on local governments,” Carbrey said in her report. “Based on the new legislation, the East Kootenay Emergency Management Program will require additional resources (funding and staff) in order to meet the new obligations.”

The provincial government plans to replace the existing Emergency Program Act with a new set of rules that regional districts will have to follow. Carbrey said the new legislation will require local governments to identify all reasonably foreseeable hazards, and to assess the risk posed by each hazard as well as the potential impacts in the event of an emergency. 

Carbrey noted the repealed Emergency Program Act was focused primarily on response, which “did not adequately meet the needs of cascading emergencies of the 21st century.” 

While the new legislation brings forth many necessary changes, RDEK staff and other local authorities, including First Nations, have significant concerns about the increase in their responsibilities, Carbrey pointed out.

She said EDMA was tailored for municipalities, not regional districts when you consider risk assessments and emergency management plans. 

“Given the immense geographic scale and unique mandates of regional districts, this will be a significant challenge.” 

Carbrey stated the new act will have new requirements specific to mitigation and risk identification, adding that municipalities have more flexibility and leeway to spend money in these circumstances.

The manager also said there will be some confusion about risk assessment requirements since most of the RDEK is unsurveyed Crown land.

She stated the act defines new emergencies including terrorism, rioting and security threats, and because regional districts don’t have direct control over law enforcement, the role of the RDEK will be unclear. 

Carbrey added that local authorities will now have the power to control and restrict business activities and events during a state of local emergency, which could lead to contentious situations. “For instance, public pressure for a regional district to cancel a large outdoor event during a wildfire season if there is a perceived risk.”

The other concern is the significant amount of staff time required to undertake a high level of consultation and coordination that the new regulations call for. In addition, business continuity plans will be required to address essential services during an emergency, she pointed out.

Carbrey said the new act also outlines support for vulnerable populations as well as animals (with the definition now broadened to include pets). 

“This is not a realistic expectation for regional districts to handle across a large geographic area.”

She informed the board that livestock relocation is already a labour-intensive task for the RDEK during emergencies; adding domestic animals to the mix will exacerbate this onerous process.

Carbrey said staff strongly recommend the province create two local authority regulations under the new act – one for municipalities, one for regional districts.