As legislated by the provincial government, Fernie has an active emergency social services (ESS) program. The program is headed by Paul Wortley and is intended to help people in case of an evacuation.
There are two areas that Fernie’s ESS program focuses on: evacuee help and volunteer training. When helping people who have been evacuated from their homes, Wortley said the mandate is to provide assistance for up to three days.
“What we do is we offer up to 72 hours of basic needs for people that are evacuated for weather, fire, flood, those sorts of things,” said Wortley. “That is what the government has allotted because they figure once a person has been out of the house for 72 hours, they either have the ability to move back home or they have the ability to find accommodations or services elsewhere.”
Wortley added that ESS assistance can be extended and varies with each situation. A number of variables are analyzed when helping evacuees, such as time of year, weather and number of people needing help.
“Depending on the size of evacuation, it changes the size of accommodations offered. For a little one, two people, we are going to put them into a hotel. But if it was 500 people or so, then we would open up what is called a group lodging area in the centre. You are given a 40 square foot section, a cot, a pillow and a blanket. That’s what we are doing for the evacuees.”
The ESS team provides vouchers for food and incidentals to evacuees in lieu of money. This ensures that the evacuees are using the funds for necessities and not purchasing frivolous items.
“We didn’t give them money for food, we give them vouchers for food. They get the paperwork and then they take it to the grocery store and they are allowed $22.50 per day,” said Wortley. “While all of this is taken care of prior, I go to the store and have the contract. No cigarettes, no liquor but everything else is okay, and they fill out the paper work and send it off to the government for reimbursement.”
When it comes to training, Wortley provides his team of volunteers with a variety of training to help equip them for such emergency situations. The last training they received was on May 30, where they had a course in Personal Disaster Assistance or PDA. Wortley provides the training when he sees a need or he can find an appropriate instructor. Ideally, he said he would like to have a training session once a month.
When Wortley first started working with the City of Fernie on the ESS program two years ago, there was no set program for him to follow.
“One of my first things that I had to do was do up a plan because I had nothing when I started,” he said. “I was starting at ground zero.”
Now Wortley has written a 150-page program that covers a variety of topics, including pet care in the case of an emergency evacuation.
Wortley is always looking for new volunteers to help with the program. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the program is available at the City of Fernie’s website, Fernie.ca.