Life is a learning experience and every time you have an experience you should learn something from it. Communities in the North have been evacuated several times over the years and every time it happens, the public and those in charge of these things, should learn from it and modify their procedures for the future.

This year, a wildfire near Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation meant they had to be evacuated. Many came to Yellowknife because it was designated as the official place to go — the evacuation centre was set up at the Multiplex. Literally hundreds of people headed this way. They were told to check in at the Multiplex and it was also a place for people to stay.

However, when they arrived, if they had a dog or cat with them, they were told no pets were allowed in the building because it is a no-pet, no-smoking municipal building. I don’t think that most people were told this ahead of time. Also, all the places that might take pets and were on a list were full to overflowing and just couldn’t take any more.

So, not informing people of this creates a bit of a problem. I can understand that putting dogs and cats — a lot of them — into a facility where people are trying to sleep would create a problem. Particularly when you have stressed out people and stressed-out dogs and cats. However, I can also see the problem from the other side. I don’t like calling them pets because they are a whole lot more than that. They are companions, friends and members of the family and many people would not leave them behind anymore then they would leave the kids or grandparents behind.

When people are told to evacuate and evacuation centres are set up, people should also be informed if animals are allowed and if not then I think there should be ways set up to deal with pets. Luckily many people in Yellowknife agreed to take in people and people’s dogs and cats. So, it has sort of worked itself out, but this could be done in a more efficient way.

There are several people staying with friends, camping or staying at hotels. Big shelters aren’t for everyone. People with animal companions may want to be with them. People who are looking after Elders, kids or people with handicaps may not want to be in a big one room centre. So not everyone is going to stay in the shelter. That’s okay, but the government should keep track of the evacuees wherever they are.

Also, a lot of people in Yellowknife want to help, but they just don’t know how and it is a rather ad hoc system of social media sites trying to hook up people in need and those willing to help. This system should obviously be improved.

We get regular fire updates, which is good, but there should also be evacuee updates for what is happening and what is needed. To be evacuated for a day or two is one thing, but when it starts being more than that, there needs to be more things for the evacuees to do and after a week or so. People start needing more things, need to wash clothes and need to do various things like pay bills.

So the government needs a few plans: one for evacuation, one for how long the evacuation lasts and what happens when people return. If this is all written down and circulated to people, they would have a much better idea of what is and what will happen. The plan also must be flexible enough to take in all the special circumstances that arise.

The government needs a better communications system and plan and it seems to me our elected leaders keep a mighty low profile during an emergency. They did this with Covid, last year’s floods and this year’s wildfires. I am a little disappointed in the way our elected officials perform when they are needed the most. They should be part of the plan.

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