CSRD photo Newly retired Shuswap Emergency Program co-ordinator Cliff Doherty stands in front of a helicopter that was used to transport “critically injured” victims in a successful 2011 training exercise in Canoe that involved a wide range of emergency responders and Shuswap Lake General Hospital.-Image credit:CSRD photo

Putting focus on preparedness

Retired emergency co-ordinator Cliff Doherty looks at career highlights

After a decade of co-ordinating emergency response in the Shuswap, Cliff Doherty has left the Columbia Shuswap Regional District with a plaque, praise from the board and a lot of memories.

Most proud that he was able to steer the focus of the Shuswap Emergency Program, which operates under the purview of the regional district, Doherty is learning to become acclimatized to retirement.

One of the things that gives this South Shuswap resident the most satisfaction is having steered the Shuswap Emergency Program in the direction of preparedness, rather than a reactive response to emergencies.

“It was about having the time to work with people and promoting emergency preparedness,” Doherty says. “Most of my life has been responding to emergencies.”

Doherty worked with several levels of government, organizations, volunteers and the general public, challenging people to ask themselves questions about emergencies before they happen.

“It can happen, so do something to prepare for it,” he says of encouraging whole neighbourhoods to band together and help each other. “It’s human nature to do that and it sure works better when you have some planning behind it.”

To drive the message home, Doherty, with the help of assistant Kathy Semchuk, organized training exercises, from simple desktop workshops to full-scale, complex emergency exercises – simulating a helicopter crash in 2011 in Canoe to a 2016 exercise in Sicamous that simulated a large fire on a wharf and a spill in the lake.

“As we planned it, it became a scene where a bunch of people were gathered in park because of a bird sighting and a helicopter crashed in the midst of all of them and a bus that swerved to avoid the helicopter,” Doherty says of the 2011 mock emergency, noting 99 volunteers were designated victims with a variety of injuries.

Police, fire departments from across the region, ambulance service, road rescue personnel, search and rescue, St. John Ambulance first aid participated.

“The other agency that was heavily involved was Shuswap Lake General Hospital,” Doherty says, noting part of the planning was to get patients tended to en masse.

“Kudos to the hospital; upwards of 60 people were transported to ER and dealt with in some fashion. The ambulatory patients were taken to Maple Tree Clinic, where they were triaged. That occurred with no planning on our part and I had a really good feeling our medical folks could handle an emergency if we had one.”

The 2016 training exercise included the same match-up of people, with the only addition being the rescue boat out of Sicamous.

“Agencies got to practise decontamination of injured and rescue personnel,” Doherty says. “They all practise it on their own, but in this case they practised across the lines and it was a major success.”

In terms of emergencies, Doherty says one that stands out is the 2012 freshet, when debris flows struck both Hummingbird and Sicamous creeks and resulted in the activation of an emergency operations centre from June to August.

Doherty will be reminded of the event thanks to a plaque whose artwork features the flooding and was presented to him by CSRD directors at the March 23 board meeting.

Also handed out at the meeting, which was packed with people who showed up to say goodbye, were thanks and kudos from several directors.

“You’ve built up a huge program of volunteers, you’re leaving a huge pair of shoes here and I don’t know who’s gonna fill them,” said Area D director Rene Talbot.

Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper said that as SEP chair, she knows Doherty worked hard and she appreciated his successful work in keeping volunteers involved.

Now retired Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure rep Peter Gooch noted he had worked closely with Doherty over the years, with “always a bit of work we had to do about efforts between SEP and province.

“It was a pleasure working with you,” he said.

When Doherty tried to shift the focus to the team effort provided by Semchuk and SEP volunteers, CSRD chair Rhona Martin spoke up.

“We recognize it’s a team… but you have really brought the team together,” she said.

“The two of you have made a place where people want to come and volunteer and that speaks a lot about the atmosphere you created. Well done.”

Doherty acknowledged the time has come to spend more of his days with family but told the board he will continue to live in the Shuswap.

“Call me if you need me,” he said.

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