Listen up: Whitehorse has an updated plan for dealing with public emergencies

The plans are a guide book for officials for when shelter-in-place, evacuation alerts and evacuation orders are given.

The plans are a guide book for officials for shelter-in-place, evacuation alerts and evacuation orders

Chris Green, deputy chief of the Whitehorse Fire Department says paying attention to instructions and following them will help residents get through local emergencies. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Be prepared, listen to instructions, follow the instructions.

That's the message Whitehorse Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Green is delivering this summer.

Green and other city staff have finished a two-years-in-the-making project called the Public Safety Protective Plan.

It's the guide-book for public officials who are responding to emergencies that might require residents to shelter in place, be put on evacuation alert or obey an evacuation order.

Forest fires are considered by many to be the biggest threat to the city. The Fort McMurray, Alta., fire and evacuation in 2016 led some in Whitehorse to compare the the two cities. 

Both have boreal forest right up to the edge of their residential areas and fire officials have acknowledged Whitehorse could face the same situation one day.

Cots set up at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse, as a simulated emergency reception centre in 2019. The training exercise was part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Green said there are other potential threats as well. One could be an earthquake, he said, another could be an active shooter in a neighbourhood.

Communication is a key component of protecting the public in an emergency, said Green.

"The ability for community members to learn of a crisis and the actions required for their safety, if any, is of the utmost importance," he said.

"In today's age of instant information, it can be a difficult challenge to try to separate fact from rumour. Inappropriate, unofficial and incorrect information posted to social media can lead to a panicked response."

Green said if an evacuation order is given for a particular area of the city, it's not optional

"It's a mandatory thing that you have to do. You have to leave your home. So you know, I want to make sure that people are clear on that," he said.

Green chats with Brad Avanthay, one of the crew clearing a fire line along the Copper Haul Road in December. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Once the order is given, he said, there will be information telling people where to go and what to do. That could even include a shelter for pets, Green said. Takhini Arena has been suggested for that.

Information about evacuation routes, muster points and reception centres could be posted online, on smart phones and through the media.

"Follow the instructions carefully and calmly, try not to panic," Green said.

"I know, if you have a wildfire burning through like we've seen in Fort McMurray and the fire's cross the road, it's hard not to panic. What I will ask you to do is remain as calm as possible and we'll get through this together."

The Public Safety Protection Plan can be found at: Public Safety Protection Plan


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