Vernon aiming to improve evacuation routes in high-risk areas

The Okanagan is no stranger to natural disasters, but some neighbourhoods are easier to escape in an emergency than others.

In Vernon, the city has identified Tronson Road, Eastside Road and Predator Ridge, which all only have one main corridor for entry and exit, as high-risk evacuation areas.

That lack of alternative exits in some neighbourhoods has prompted Vernon to hire a consultant to look for other possible evacuation routes the city could create.

The city’s fire chief points out that could mean upgrading things pathways so they can serve a duel purpose.

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Under normal conditions they can be used as recreational trails, but would become emergency evacuation routes when disaster hits.

The lack of access to his neighbourhood is something Okanagan Landing Road resident Terry Muir would like to see change.

“I know how I would evacuate because I live on the lake. I would just get on my boat and go out in the middle of the lake,” said Muir.

“We certainly do need a way to get out of here because if you look up there on this hill, you’ll see that these trees are just tinder-dry.”

Muir has lived in Vernon for five decades and would like to see an outdated proposal to build a road between what is now the Predator Ridge area and Ellison Provincial Park revived.

That would give Muir and his neighbours on Okanagan Landing Road and Eastside Road another way out.

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Right now, if a mass evacuation of the city was needed, the municipality’s evacuation plans call for Vernon to be vacated in stages.

“We have the city divided into evacuation zones so we would move a couple zones out at a time in order to control traffic,” explained David Lind, the city’s fire chief.

In an interface fire situation, residents in high risk areas like Tronson Road would be ordered out of their home earlier than in other neighborhoods.

What would normally prompt an alert, warning residents to prepare to leave anywhere else, would trigger an order to evacuate in high-risk evacuation areas.

The city believes getting those residents out early will allow for a more organized evacuation.

Lind is hoping the effort to identify and create alternate evacuation routes will build on the existing evacuation plans.

The fire chief expressed confidence with the city’s evacuation planning to-date but said he is always looking to make further improvements.

However, it will likely be some time before any new routes are created.

The city is looking to hire the consultant to do the work by early August and the process of identifying alternate evacuation routes is then expected to take a year.

In the meantime, the city is planning to do some evacuation drills to improve its evacuation protocol and find out how long it takes to do an evacuation in Vernon.

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