The heat is suffocating and smoke hangs heavy across the Shuswap.
Several hundred people wait in line at an emergency social services centre.
Their fatigue is compounded by fear and the stress of being forced from their homes by a wildfire.
Those with pets are particularly stressed because they are not allowed to take them into the centre where they must register for food and accommodation and possibly clothing and incidental items.
While this could very well be a real scene with the number of wildfires in the province, it’s one possible scenario for local Emergency Social Services to practise their skills with a new addition to the registration process.
On Saturday, June 27, volunteers with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s Shuswap Emergency Program (SEP) and CDART (Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team) set up a mock reception centre for “evacuees” with pets in Silver Creek Community Hall.
Cliff Doherty, SEP co-ordinator, says the group is using a new numbering system to make sure people with pets can be accommodated without losing their place in often-long lines.
As they arrive at the centre, all evacuees are handed a number. Those with pets are directed to a CDART station where they begin the paperwork process and hand their pets over to volunteers who mind them while their owners go into the centre.
When registration is complete and evacuees have their vouchers, including accommodation that accepts pets, pet food and meds, they pick up their animals and head out.
Doherty says in cases where people are unable to take their pets with them, provisions are made for longer-term care.
Emergency Social Services director Cathy Semchuk says 15 SEP volunteers took part in the three-hour exercise designed to familiarize them with the new procedures.
“It took close to two hours (per evacuee) but we wanted to make sure they had lots of time to fill out the new forms,” Semchuk says, noting the exercise provided good feedback on how to streamline the process and better mesh the pet and regular paperwork. “It was absolutely worth it. Several people said they were rusty and glad we did it.”
While regular training takes place once a month, hands-on exercises do not.
A volunteer with SEP’s Emergency Social Services for seven years, Sicamous resident Barb Birch called the exercise fabulous.
“I came from Winnipeg and had never seen anything like this,” Birch says, noting she joined the organization after seeing an invitation to volunteer on cable television. “We get lots of training and they (Doherty and Semchuk) take good care of us.”
Semchuk was impressed by CDART’s well-trained volunteers and pointed to the value of practising together without the pressure of a real evacuation.