Municipalities, FCSS work on managing crisis

Ponoka, Rimbey and the county discuss with FCSS how to work together on helping Fort McMurray evacuees

Regional cooperation is the key when it comes to providing assistance to evacuees from Fort McMurray.

The start of that cooperation is coordinating the support of activities to help those staying in the Ponoka and Rimbey areas and the hope is that a meeting held on Tuesday, May 10 will go a long way toward ensuring the evacuees find housing and daily necessities.

The two heads of Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in the two communities along with emergency management officials and some council members from both towns and Ponoka County met for about an hour to come up with some strategies so that there isn’t any duplication and that donations can be coordinated.

Rimbey Mayor Rick Pankiw mentioned the community there has been over-run with donations that they have had to turn people away and then had to make a call to Rimbey FCSS to get enough volunteers to sort out the donations in the make-shift ‘store’ at the local arena.

“We are needing to deplete our stock so we stopped taking in donations,” Pankiw stated during the meeting.

As of that time, Rimbey had families residing in trailers in the community with another four staying in other housing options to go along with nine more families in various forms of accommodations in the Gull Lake area.

Pankiw explained they felt they could find housing for another eight to 12 families and were using the Fort McMurray residents evacuation pages on Facebook to make connections between evacuees and local families offering the accommodations.

“So far, it’s been wonderful, but things may start to change when the plants start back up and we made it known that this isn’t a short-term issue, but that these accommodations are going to likely be for a minimum of six months,” he stated.

Town of Ponoka chief administrative officer Albert Flootman was tapped during the meeting for his experience leading the recovery effort for the disastrous floods in southern Alberta. He spoke about how the recovery is going to be a long term initiative.

“We have to look at how are we going to support those displaced residents as well as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for the next 12 to 18 months,” he stated.

“They are going to need the resources that include other municipalities providing staff to help them manage. What we have seen so far is great to see, but there will be a need to help them sustain that as it is going to take years to get them through this process because the greater the needs, the longer the recovery.”

Flootman added Ponoka has yet to officially provide support, though many individuals and businesses are doing that on their own.

Meanwhile, everyone in the meeting agreed that FCSS in both communities should be the conduit through which to funnel communications about the situation to each of the municipalities, since they can also help connect evacuees to the services and resources they will be searching for.

Paul McLauchlin, Ponoka County Reeve, suggested that the CAOs of each of the municipalities along with each FCSS office come together regularly as, “We don’t want to be seen as sitting and doing nothing. We may not have all the answers now, but we have a willingness to help and ensure the pieces are in place to do that.”