By Steve Hubrecht

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Smoke from the wildfires burning in northern Alberta drifted south and filled the Columbia Valley last week, reminding residents that wildfire season has begun.

It’s a good time to re-assess your emergency preparedness and make sure you and your family are ready to leave your home at a moment’s notice, should disaster strike. And while you’re at it, why not consider your readiness not just for wildfire but also for any type of disaster, be it flooding, debris flows, heavy rain and landslides shutting down highways and forcing locals to hunker down in their homes, or any number of other scenarios. 

That’s the message Columbia Valley volunteers working with the Red Cross are hoping to get out to residents. The group is led here in the valley by Radium resident (and former Radium mayor) Clara Reinhardt. 

Earlier this month, during national Emergency Preparedness Week, Reinhardt distributed information packages and brochures through the Columbia Valley in public locations such as the District of Invermere office, at both visitor centres, and at both public libraries. The brochures aim to raise awareness about being ready in case of disaster.

“The idea is to get people to think about what they need to do to be prepared, should the worst happen,” Reinhardt told the Pioneer. 

Of course “having a grab-and-go kit for 72 hours, in case you need to leave your home immediately, is the standard,” she outlined, but added there’s quite a lot more to consider beyond that.

One of the brochures essentially functions as a fill-in-the-blank family emergency plan, with 14 pages of checklists and questions to answer, such as where to go in various scenarios, as well as where to meet loved ones should you become separated from them during the disaster, and so on.

“It really helps you go through it (emergency planning) with your family,” explained Reinhardt.

She noted that decades ago, after an earthquake in southern California, cell phone lines (which were a new thing at the time) were jammed with people trying to get in touch with family and friends in the wake of the disaster, to figure out what to do.

“Obviously things are so much easier if you have a plan in place first,” said Reinhardt.

A few years ago the Red Cross signed a contract with the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) to provide Emergency Support Services (ESS) in the Columbia Valley. ESS involves helping local residents who are displaced by fire, flood, landslides, earthquakes or other emergencies.

Those services were put into action this past winter, when an Invermere house fire left five young adults suddenly without their home.

“We made sure they had some food, and one young woman needed a uniform for work, so we got her some cash cards so she could buy the uniform she needed,” explained Reinhardt.

To find out more about emergency preparedness visit the Radium Hot Springs Visitor Centre, the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre, the District of Invermere office, the Invermere Public Library, or the Radium Hot Springs Public Library and ask to see the Red Cross information packages and brochures.

You can also see (and print) a copy of the emergency plan brochure at: