Prevention, preparedness key to Fort McMurray's new emergency strategy

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo adopted a new emergency management bylaw Tuesday evening with the hope it will put the municipality in a better position for future disasters.

'It focuses on planning, mitigation and prevention and response,' says fire chief

"This bylaw keeps the topic of emergency management relevant," said Jody Butz, fire chief, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. (Marion Warnica/CBC)

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo adopted a new emergency management bylaw Tuesday aimed at helping the region prepare better for future disasters.

The bylaw emphasizes prevention and preparedness instead of reacting to threats when they arise.

"The old bylaw focused on response and we know that 99 per cent of the time we are not in [emergency] response," the region's fire chief Jody Butz said. "So what are we doing 90 per cent of the time?"

The new bylaw comes two years after a devastating wildfire forced 80,000 people to flee Fort McMurray.

Reviews from the province and the municipality said the wildfire evacuation and fire fight were characterized by miscommunication and disorganization.

It was recommended the municipality review its emergency management law to confirm it aligns with municipal and provincial legislation, update its emergency plan each year, and clarify the role of the director of emergency management.

The new bylaw will govern how the municipality responds to wildfires and other emergencies such as floods or hazardous spills.

The bylaw includes roles and responsibilities for leaders in the region and the establishment of an emergency advisory committee.

"This bylaw keeps the topic of emergency management relevant. It focuses on planning, mitigation and prevention and response," Butz said.

Emergency responsibilities will move away from the fire chief to a new full-time position, the director of emergency management.

The director's responsibility will be to prepare, plan, budget and decide when to activate a regional emergency operations centre and lead it. The director will also help decide when to declare a state of local emergency.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca

About the Author

David Thurton

David Thurton is CBC's mobile journalist in Fort McMurray. He's worked for CBC in the Maritimes & in Canada's Arctic. Email: david.thurton@cbc.ca