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Whistler officials get first look at Sea to Sky evacuation plan

The plan is a joint initiative between the RMOW and District of Squamish

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Last month, the resort's elected officials got their first glimpse at a joint evacuation plan being finalized for both Whistler and Squamish.

A draft of the Sea to Sky Multimodal Evacuation Plan was presented to mayor and council at the June 19 Committee of the Whole meeting, and offered a comprehensive view of the logistics behind various evacuation scenarios.

"The Sea to Sky Multimodal Evacuation Plan outlines the process and resources for the complete evacuation of either the RMOW or District of Squamish, to the north and/or the south," explained Erin Marriner, emergency program coordinator for the RMOW, during the meeting.

The plan is broken down into several main components, including an interactive GIS map that, using real-time photographic data, will indicate important nearby infrastructure and services in the event of an evacuation, including medical clinics, schools, and muster points.

"This will be our visual of the corridor," Marriner explained. "So if we're in an emergency operations centre, we can click on the GIS map and say, 'Great, that location has room for a fuel truck, let's do it.' It gives us that spatial piece."

The final component is an operational "grab-and-go" document that emergency personnel will utilize during an evacuation, Marriner said. It will include step-by-step instructions on coordinating with the appropriate agencies, and detailed technical information on available resources.

The plan also includes on overview of the hazards that could potentially result in a mass evacuation in Whistler: air quality, interface fire, volcanic eruption, a hazardous material spill, and a large-scale terrorist incident. Marriner said staff determined there aren't any hazards that could possibly require the mass evacuation of both Whistler and Squamish simultaneously.

"Being 50 kilometres apart as the crow flies, it was just a stretch to think that we would both need to do that within a 12-hour period," she explained.

Elected officials in Squamish will get their first look at the plan on July 10. Mayor Patricia Heintzman is hopeful the draft will incorporate the lessons learned from last year's summer of wildfires—the most devastating fire season in B.C.'s history.

"I'll really be looking to see what kind of outcomes that were experienced last year—the good, the bad and the ugly," she said.

Using modelling software, the plan looked at various "design scenarios" meant to simulate an evacuation. The scenarios were summarized into a peak winter day, a peak summer day, and an average day that assessed things like the total number of evacuees, the potential number of vehicles, the potential number of people requiring transit, and the number of people who might require shelter in other communities.

"It will provide the most realistic simulation of what an evacuation would look like," Marriner said. "We're using some scenarios with advance notice, meaning we phase (the evacuation) by neighbourhood—we wouldn't just have everyone go at once. And then, also no notice, so if people just self-evacuated right away, what that would look like."

The plan assessed the efficiency of various evacuation methods, and, determined that Highway 99 remains "the main mode for getting out" of the community, said Marriner. "We realize the priority will be to keep the highway moving."

In January, the RMOW and District of Squamish agreed to a 50-50 cost-sharing agreement for the plan, with each government committing $125,000.

The plan is in the process of being finalized before coming to council for consideration.

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