Weathering next disaster focus of Municipalities NL meeting

Municipalities in the province are doing their best to be prepared for when, not if, another disaster hits.

Event held as 'pre-conference' prior to larger symposium in Gander

Churence Rogers is the president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Municipalities in the province are doing their best to be prepared for when, not if, another disaster hits.

From Hurricane Igor, to last summer's forest fires in Labrador, to the island-wide power outages in early January, delegates attending an emergency management and response conference in Gander shared first-hand experiences to be as ready as possible for the "next one."

Churence Rogers, president of conference sponsor Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, says the information will be compiled and put online for regular perusal and updating.

"What will come out of this, most importantly, is that the collaborations, the partnerships that we have with all these organizations are forged and are made stronger, so that when we need support we know where to go to get that support, and we know who to talk to," said Rogers.

Those organizations include the Canadian Red Cross, Association of Fire Services, RCMP, RNC and the Fire and Emergency Services arm of the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs.

Kelly White is the executive director of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities. (CBC)
The Coalition of Persons with Disabilities was also well represented at the conference, as the group prepares its own emergency plan.

"So, the knowledge mobilization has been really great," said the group's executive director, Kelly White.

"The networking and meeting the different people from different communities, the firefighters, the municipal leaders, the town councils ... it's all been really fabulous for us because this networking is going to be crucial to our project being successful. Together we can be better, and together we can all be more prepared."

Fire departments — both paid and volunteer  play a key role in emergency preparedness and response, yet the province's Association of Fire Services continues to grapple with staffing issues.

"We are constantly struggling with recruitment and retention of firefighters," said association president and Grand Falls-Windsor fire chief Vince Mackenzie. "Our populations are dwindling, our populations are getting older, so it becomes very, very difficult to maintain a really strong fire department, or really strong and capable individuals."

The emergency management sessions were held as a pre-conference to the larger Municipalities NL symposium in Gander this week.

The event wraps up on Saturday.