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Disaster Preparedness in Store

Maddie Laberge filling the emergency shipping container

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VCH and PHSA put shipping containers to work in case of emergency

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Health Emergency Management British Columbia (HEMBC) are working together to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impacts of emergency events, and ensure the continuity of health services. Emergency preparedness and response is more important than ever with rising risks of floods, wildfires, and extreme weather events due to climate change and other natural hazards.

One way that this is being done is through the emergency shipping container program. VCH and HEMBC initiated this program on the Central Coast of British Columbia following a 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit 278 km offshore of Kodiak, Alaska, in January 2018. Staff at both hospitals on the Central Coast — R.W. Large Memorial Hospital in Bella Bella and Bella Coola General Hospital — immediately began preparing patients for evacuation when the tsunami warning sounded.

One of the challenges faced during the evacuation of two communities on the Central Coast was a lack of essential supplies and a safe storage location. After coordination with the Nuxalk and Heiltsuk First Nations, shipping containers filled with supplies and equipment to support three days of care for staff, residents, and patients were placed beside their evacuation location. The focus was on clinical items that don’t have expiry dates. Importantly, Indigenous knowledge and expertise were incorporated into planning the container supplies to ensure a culturally safe and welcoming environment for evacuees.

The emergency shipping container is a 30-foot vessel located offsite and filled with essential supplies, including medical equipment, generators, pumps, vacuums, traffic cones, maintenance equipment, food, and water. The container provides duplicates of key items that a health facility might need in the event of a major emergency, ensuring quick and efficient access to supplies and equipment.

The project has been successfully implemented during past emergencies. During the 2018 wildfire season, VCH staff deployed an emergency shipping container at the Bella Coola General Hospital to provide backup power for medical equipment during power outages caused by the fires. The container proved to be critical in ensuring continuity of care for patients and staff during the wildfire emergency.

The emergency shipping container program has now been expanded beyond the Central Coast. Various VCH sites – including Sechelt, Powell River, North Vancouver, and soon, Squamish – have emergency shipping containers to support communities during emergencies that arise from floods, fires, power outages, and other extreme events.

This initiative has been a significant step building climate resilience and protecting the safety and well-being of patients, staff, and communities. By providing quick and efficient access to essential supplies and equipment, the project helps Vancouver Coastal Health’s Communities of Care respond effectively during emergencies and climate-related disasters.

As Maddy Laberge, a manager for HEMBC, notes,

As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, initiatives such as the emergency shipping container project become increasingly essential to mitigate risks to patient safety and well-being. By proactively preparing for worst-case scenarios, we can ensure that our health facilities are better equipped to provide critical care during and after emergencies, ultimately helping to safeguard the health and welfare of our communities.”