If you were to take a quick survey of a hundred people in Tumbler Ridge, and ask them why they live here, the word ?safe? would float to the top as one of the top ten reasons. While it is true that Tumbler Ridge is safe, it is not immune to dangers and disasters. Forest fires, power outages in the middle of winter and floods are just a few of the possible disasters that could hit Tumbler Ridge.

Preparing for a large-scale natural or man-made disaster was the theme last weekend, as people from as far away as William?s Lake and Fort Nelson gathered in Tumbler Ridge for the Emergency Social Services Annual Regional Meeting and Seminar.

Volunteers from across the Northeast learned about the basics of Emergency Social Services from Alvina Berggren, an ESS Volunteer and trainer from Fort Nelson. ?I got into this because I was evacuated,? said Berggren. ?I had 15 minutes to pack up and leave the house. Better yet, my kids were in school, and my husband was in Fort Liard.? There was no Emergency Social Services plan in place in Fort Nelson at the time, and her family was left to fend for itself. The banks were closed, and in the mad rush to get everything packed into the motor home, she completely forgot food.

Fortunately, the family had friends staying with them, and between the two families everyone?s basic needs were met for a day, until they were allowed back into their house. But the event rattled her, and it started her on the ESS/Red Cross path, a path that has seen her volunteering at some of the biggest disasters of the last few years. She helped out after 9-11 in New York, and went down to Kamloops and Kelowna to provide services for evacuees during the fires this summer. Alvina?s experiences formed the backdrop to her introduction to Emergency Social Services course on Friday night.

Other presenters at the conference included Bob Beckett, Fire Chief from Langford, who spoke on recruiting and retaining volunteers in a volunteer organization. Bob was presented with the Queen?s Jubilee Medal for his work in this field and has volunteered in many large-scale national and international disasters.

Brian Lamond and Al Callas from Duke Energy spoke about Duke?s emergency systems in place in case of a pipeline leak, especially for sour gas. Duke Energy also provided dinner on Saturday night for the nearly 40 conference attendees.

Sunday, Alvina Berggren ran a Reception Centre Operations course. This course gives attendees a general idea on the set up and running of a Reception Centre which would be set up to provide services for those affected by a disaster. Services provided in a Reception Centre would include: Registration, Family Reunification, Pet Care, Food, Lodging and Clothing.

Northeast ESS Director Jerrilyn Schembri says she was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who attended the weekend. ?I was expecting maybe 10 or 15, but it just grew and grew.? Part of the reason for the big numbers, she suspects, might have been the forest fires this summer. ?And not just the forest fires. There was the flooding in Squamish, gas outage in Prince Rupert as well as BSE and SARS all of which get people thinking about personal safety. People are aware that yes, it can happen here. They are interested in learning what they can do in an emergency, but also what they can do to help.?

Jerrilyn would like to thank all of those who had a part in making this conference a success. Thank you to ESSA, ESS, Regional PEP office, Duke Energy, the District of Tumbler Ridge, and Mountain Base Camp Catering for making this weekend such a success.

Sidebar: What are Emergency Social Services?

Emergency Social Services is a provincially mandated, locally operated program designed to meet the basic needs of residents. These services are provided on a short-term basis, and are designed to preserve the emotional and physical well being of people who have to be evacuated in an emergency situation. The primary services offered are emergency food, clothing and lodging, as well as family reunification. Other services that are often offered are pet care, personal services, communication, transportation, recreation, basic first aid and information.

If a disaster were to hit Tumbler Ridge, the Recreation Centre would be become the ESS Reception Centre, which is where people would go to register for these services. Even if you did not need these services, you are strongly advised to register. If someone was looking for you, the Reception Centre would be the first place contacted; if you hadn?t registered, but just drove to Dawson to stay with friends, you could cause undo stress and worry on family and friends who are trying to find out if you are all right.