Canadian Forest Service Publications

Evacuation preparedness and the challenges of emergency evacuation in Indigenous communities in Canada: The case of Sandy Lake First Nation, Northern Ontario. Asfaw, H. W., Nation, S. L. F., McGee, T. K., & Christianson, A. C. (2019). International journal of disaster risk reduction, 34, 55-63.

Year: 2019

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 40424

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2018.11.005

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Abstract

Although many decades of successful wildfire suppression have resulted in very few losses of life or property in Ontario due to wildfires, frequent evacuation incidents have continued to disrupt many remote First Nations. In 2011, the community of Sandy Lake evacuated due to a wildfire which came within nine kilometers of the community. Residents were airlifted and scattered to eleven cities/towns throughout Ontario and into Manitoba. Using a qualitative community-based research approach, this study examined how issues related to pre-event preparedness and during-event communication influenced evacuation experiences of Sandy Lake First Nation residents. A total of 56 interviews and a focus group discussion were completed with evacuated band members, those who stayed behind, and people who had a management role during the evacuation. The results from the interviews and focus group illustrated that evacuation experience of residents were affected by preparedness and communication issues including a delay in obtaining site-specific and reliable information about the wildfires, a lack of clarity about the protocols to be followed in declaring a community state of emergency, and perceived constraints in government wildfire management policy, that compromised the resilience of the community to the disruptive impacts of the evacuation. The lack of community preparedness to respond to wildfire emergencies was found to be a main factor increasing vulnerabilities to this wildfire emergency. The results of this study underscore the importance of building local preparedness to hazard and emergencies by taking into account the unique characteristics of Indigenous communities.

Plain Language Summary

Frequent evacuation incidents have continued to disrupt many remote First Nations communities in Ontario. In 2011, residents of Sandy Lake were airlifted and scattered to 11 cities and towns throughout Ontario and Manitoba due to a wildfire evacuation. This study examined how issues relate to pre-event preparedness and during-event communication influenced evacuation experiences of Sandy Lake First Nation residents. This study included interviews and a focus group discussion with evacuated band members, those who stayed behind and people with a management role in the evacuation. The results indicate that preparedness and communication issues affected evacuation experiences of residents. The lack of community preparedness to respond to wildfire emergencies was found to be a main factor increasing vulnerabilities to this emergency. The results demonstrate the importance of building local preparedness to hazard and emergencies while working collectively with the unique characteristics of Indigenous communities.