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February 7, 2024
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by acknowledging that the Government of the Northwest Territories will ensure that a comprehensive and independent after-action review of last year’s historic wildfire season is completed and shared publicly. This will be a transparent and open process, and will involve feedback from community and Indigenous governments, as well as emergency management partners. Additionally, public forums will be hosted in impacted communities to hear directly from residents who were evacuated during last year’s devastating wildfire season.
This will be the largest after-action review ever undertaken by this government, and I want residents to know that this is a priority for this government. We already know that it will highlight gaps in last year’s emergency response, but it will also inform how we collectively prepare for, manage, and recover from emergencies in the future.
Mr. Speaker, this review will also consider the independent reviews being conducted by other organizations, including non-government organizations, and community and Indigenous governments. The Government of the Northwest Territories is deeply committed to learning from last year’s devastating wildfire season, and I believe this extensive review, which all residents will be invited to participate in, will help guide emergency preparation and management efforts going forward.
I want to stress, however, that our government is not waiting for recommendations from this review to make improvements now. All departments have been working to implement lessons learned from the 2023 wildfire season, including reviewing, and updating the NWT Emergency Plan, updating standard operating procedures, and coordinating training for GNWT staff. The comprehensive review of our Emergency Plan will be complete in advance of the 2024 disaster season.
In preparation for another high-risk season, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is also rolling out its annual Be Ready and Emergency Preparedness Week campaigns to promote the importance of personal and family preparedness.
With that being said, Mr. Speaker, individuals and families should have household emergency plans, emergency kits, and emergency contact information available. Property owners and businesses should have insurance and plans to protect their property during emergencies. Residents should be familiar with their community emergency plan so that they understand the risk to their community and what to expect during an emergency, and businesses should have continuity plans in place and know how to activate them.
As the leads for emergency management, community governments should have local emergency management organizations and community emergency plans that are reviewed and practiced annually. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs has contacted all community governments to offer assistance with planning activities and has scheduled workshops over the coming months. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs also provides tailored support, including presentations, meetings, and exercises to practice community emergency plans.
Mr. Speaker, NWT communities have faced many challenges over the past few years due to the impacts of wildfires and floods. As a firefighter from Hay River, I was personally involved in some of these events and know first-hand how devastating they can be. I offer my sympathy and support to all those who have experienced loss, and my thanks to all residents for their continued resilience.
Unfortunately, due to climate change, we can likely expect more frequent and severe wildfires and floods in the future. While we cannot predict what this year’s wildfire and breakup season will look like, we can take steps to prepare ourselves. I know it can be difficult to hear that disasters will happen again. But it is critical that all of us, as individuals, businesses, communities, and this government, take action to prepare for and respond to disasters should they occur.
As Northerners, we know all too well that emergency events can be stressful, disruptive, costly, and devastating. We also know that with better preparation, we can mitigate some of the damage, stress, and financial impact. I urge all residents to consider this as the 2024 high-risk season approaches.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to all our emergency responders who continue to keep our communities and our residents safe.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.