From the time Elizabeth Zook was contracted on a part-time basis by the CRD to co-ordinate the Emergency Program 8 years ago, there have been many facets of “emergency preparedness” undertaken. In addition to building a network of excellent communication with First Responder agencies, her focus was predominately on building a POD (neighbourhood emergency) network with the focus of developing community resilience. This program was started in 2005 and had approximately 25 people involved in various locations on the island. Today the POD program consists entirely of volunteers, with 370 people signed up and 60 Pods now established or identified on the Island. If no POD exists, it means no volunteers have been found in that area.
POD and Neighbourhood Leaders have built databases for their Pods so communications from the SSI Emergency Operation Center (EOC) can be forwarded to neighbours – as long as Hydro and Wi-Fi are available. Over the years, POD Leaders have repeatedly emphasized the POD system is neighbours-helping-neighbours. They’ve also emphasized that, after safety, the most important component is communication. In established PODs neighbours designate Assembly Points where, in the absence of all other means of communication, neighbours can gather to receive and give information or begin helping compromised neighbours. The EOC has the location of each of these established Assembly Points; essential in the event requiring an evacuation.
Weekly GMRS (2-way) radio testing has been occurring for 1year and every POD has been issued its own Channel to communicate neighbour-to-neighbour. Participants learn the protocol for sending and receiving and they learn how messages can be “relayed” or passed on until connection can be made with the EOC. POD Leaders have been encouraging Islanders to keep a pair of simple 2-way radios on hand. Communication during the current Windstorm would have been more available if everyone had a 2-way radio with which to communicate with Leaders and neighbours.
Due to the extreme conditions of this Windstorm, closed roads, no hydro and no Wi-Fi, while opening and operating an Emergency Center, Elizabeth and dedicated EOC team volunteers used whatever means of communication available to disseminate information. Initially, emails were sent in hopes they could still reach people and the SSI Emergency Program (SSIEP) facebook page. As the Center learned the extent of Hydro outages, it continued to publish notices and information on the SSIEP Face Book as well as the Salt Spring Exchange and the Driftwood. Since people with cell phones can access the internet, email and Face Book using data, these were reportedly of great use and comfort to those who received them. The page reached over 30,000 people. They passed on information to neighbours.
POD Leaders who knew their PODs were not compromised, joined the Emergency Support Services volunteers at the Warming and Charging Center – first at Seniors, then at the Library. Thanks to the experience gained while participating in the Mock Disasters organized by the Emergency Program and First Responders, POD volunteers were able to provide some assistance.
Some residents have asked why they didn’t hear from their POD volunteers. When asked if they’d contacted their Leaders, it was usually learned they had not done so. The POD system is a two-way relationship. Since the POD system is 100% voluntary, it is essential that everyone realize communication flows both ways. Leaders may be off-island, compromised themselves or otherwise unavailable.
Most of the comments received after the storm are ones full of gratitude for the amazing staff and volunteers who are with all the various island agencies. One POD Leader heard people express various forms of relief that the SSI Emergency Program brought the Pod system into existence. It has brought neighbours together in a way that would not otherwise exist. The POD Leader received an email that basically summarized the community’s positive comments: “…I did want to write to thank you and others for the extraordinary network of care and support that you have in place. It is amazing!”
The POD system works well where it exists and when it is made active by its residents. If you wish to become involved, contact the SSI Emergency Program (firstname.lastname@example.org). There will be a backlog of information requests, but you will receive an answer as soon as possible.