When large rocks tumbled down onto Highway 3, near Keremeos, B.C. on Sunday, power and phone service were knocked out for over 100 residences.
River Valley RV Park was put under an evacuation order, but Rhonda Wilkins, the park’s owner, says it was challenging to communicate with officials and get information during the evacuation.
“River Valley RV Park wasn’t impacted by any of slide, the slide was half a mile, a mile down the road. But we were impacted by the power, and we were impacted by not having cellphone service or any WiFi,” said Wilkins.
“What we found out this time during this evacuation was communication is really important, and I think that everybody has kind of gone to the fact that you can just use your cellphone and text and just check the website and we’ll get messages that way.”
Moving forward, Wilkins says there needs to be different systems in place for when the power goes out during situations like this.
“I wanted to thank (the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen) and they have followed up and they realize now that we need to have people come on the ground, like when something happens, to communicate with the other agencies because we were left kind of stranded with no information because we had no cell phone service, no WiFi, no nothing,” said Wilkins.
“This is not going to be the first time this is going to happen to people where they’re not going to have a phone, and people are not used to that. We really think agencies just need to start looking at that because it’s going to happen again.”
This is not a unique situation, as communication has been a challenge during other emergency situations in rural Okanagan communities.
Spencer Coyne, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) Vice-chair and Mayor of Princeton, said another example of this is during a wildfire near Coalmont.
“That is one of the frustrations we had, we’re always trying to figure out how to deal with this. We had spotty cell reception we couldn’t actually get voice out,” said Coyne.
“We were trying to relay messages through fire dispatch to the other fire departments and then give to other people. And we were trying to find enough cell service to send text messages.”
According to the RDOS, this has been an ongoing concern in rural areas especially during emergency situations.
As the lack of communication becomes challenging for organizations like the Regional District when there’s no physical way to get to those in need and deliver necessary information.
“We are so dependent on those modern communications now that we have switched over, there’s no redundancy. So, one of the things that I’ve been working for last few years on is building those redundancies so that we don’t lose communications,” said Coyne.
“Most emergencies happen in rural areas, the province and to their credit is trying to create a more robust system for rural communications. But I think what we’re really lacking is that redundancy in those systems, but we need more.”
Coyne went on to say that local officials need better support from all levels of government in order to build that communication in rural areas.
“We do need a commitment from another government on how to bring in those redundancies and bolster what we already have,” said Coyne.
“Because we do a really good job and I think at the Regional District we do a really great job on communicating. But when all of our tools don’t work anymore, it’s really hard to get those messages out.”
As of Thursday, TELUS services were still experiencing a disruption impacting landline phones in the area, which could also affect resident’s ability to call emergency services.
Power has been restored for 114 FortisBC customers.
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