While Whistler's Multimodal Evacuation Plan—endorsed by council at its May 14 meeting—does most of the heavy lifting, in the event of a real emergency, a safe and smooth evacuation of the entire resort will depend on preparation from Whistlerites.
"It's important that each of us have personal plans for what we would do in an emergency. Your plan needs to include a plan for your family and pets, as well as an emergency bag," said Mayor Jack Crompton at the meeting (see whistler.ca/evacuation for more).
"I'd encourage families to get together over dinner or afterwards, have a conversation and make a plan that you can agree to and that you can put into action if you ever need to."
The plan's presentation was timely, Crompton said, given the record high temperatures and extreme fire danger rating seen over the weekend.
The Sea to Sky Multimodal Evacuation Plan (MEP), as it's formally called—a joint venture (and 50/50 cost share) with the District of Squamish—lays out in detail how Whistler will be evacuated in the event of any emergency (see
Pique, May 9 for an in-depth look at the plan, and find the full document at whistler.ca).
In short, the plan identifies the total number of people that would need to be evacuated (on a peak winter day, a peak summer day and an "average population equivalent" day) outlines seven evacuation scenarios (from a phased evacuation on an average day to a no-notice evacuation on a peak summer day), and identifies 29 evacuation zones, as well as six central muster points.
While he's very happy to see the plan (though he hopes we never have to use it), Councillor John Grills wondered why six of the seven scenarios focused on a southbound evacuation.
"I've always sort of envisioned an afternoon fire approaching from the south, which would force a northbound evacuation," he said.
There are simply more scenarios to model in a southbound evacuation, said emergency program coordinator Erin Marriner.
"If we're sending everybody north there was no option to do two lanes or anything like that," she said.
"So that is why we modeled the northbound scenario—we did want to know how long it would take if everybody had to go north—but there's just not a lot of options to change the highway."
Further to that, the plan doesn't outline the absolute worst-case scenario, Coun. Arthur De Jong pointed out.
"The situation where we can't get out—then what?" he asked.
"Optimally we can, and optimally we follow this plan, but Plan B should be to get to a safe point within the valley, (and) this valley is, for the most part, an interface."
It's a point that has come up many times through the process of building the plan, Marriner said.
"We have identified that as a next step, to identify those locations, but for this plan we were really focusing on just getting people out of harm's way if that option exists," she said, adding that BC Wildfire and the Ministry of Transportation are fortunately very good at keeping highways open, even in wildfire situations.
"That's why you do see those images sometimes on TV where people look like they're driving through kind of an Armageddon, where the highway is still open and there is flames on each side but they are able to still utilize those routes," she said.
The RMOW is viewing the completion of the plan as the beginning of a broader public education process, Marriner added.
"We now know what we need to do, and so now it's going out and meeting with the schools and the daycares and hotels and making sure their plans align with our plans," she said.