The Bow Valley is in the line of fire.
As we head into another wildfire season in western Canada it’s extremely likely that we may have to live with the effects of wildfire smoke or a nearby wildfire for several weeks this summer.
While there is very little we can do to stop Mother Nature, there are ways we can mitigate the risk and one way to do that is assessing our preparedness for an emergency.
Being prepared isn’t just about individual responsibility – there is also a need for all levels of government to create response plans in the event of an emergency.
Last week, the Town of Banff tested its response plan in the event a wildfire threatened town. Firefighters and employees from the Town went door-to-door to educate residents about evacuation plans should a fire threaten their homes.
Our local agencies are good examples of what it means to be prepared – they actively set out to practice their emergency response because they know being organized is the best defence against chaos.
While being prepared for an emergency is a good first step, over the past two summers we have seen that air quality monitoring in the valley has not been up to par with the level of information we have for things like river levels or fire hazard warnings.
In fact, Alberta Health Services air quality monitoring during some of the densest days of wildfire smoke last summer was done in Calgary for the entire region.
People with compromised respiratory systems need to know if the air quality is going to put their health at risk, but the systems in place to support them are far from adequate.
A lot of people who suffer from respiratory illnesses have put themselves on air quality or smoke effect notification lists, however they seem to never receive an email or a phone call from these agencies.
If we can monitor rising water levels and the fire hazard, why are we not monitoring air quality for our local residents?
For those who found themselves feeling tired, headachy and nauseous as the thick wildfire smoke choked the valley in 2018 and 2017 – it would have helped to receive notifications that air quality is unsafe and to take precautionary measures. For those with pre-existing conditions, it might be even helpful to have access to this information in real time.
There are air monitoring stations in Exshaw and to the east of us, but these belong to Lafarge and do not offer real time data for residents about whether the air outside is going to be harmful.
When it comes to being prepared for an emergency, there are a variety of ways we can be ready for whatever life throws at us. We can have emergency kits in our vehicles if we get stuck in winter, we can prepare ourselves for evacuation if our homes are threatened by flood or fire and we can stay informed about what is happening on the landscape around us.
But we as citizens cannot just set up an air monitoring station to gather real time information about air quality locally – that is a system that requires government support and involvement.
If the government is committed to keeping us safe and preparing us for extreme weather and its effects then it is about time for the west end of the valley to have an air monitoring station.