BY BILL PHILLIPS
When the wildfires raged through the Cariboo last summer, it was hard to miss the impact on Prince George and the efforts the city went to to help.
With 11,000 evacuees calling Prince George home for a month or six weeks, you didn’t have to go far to see how the city was helping out. Everyone was pitching in.
However, far away from the evacuation centres and events planned for evacuees, a group of people huddled in a large building on Second Avenue and decided to help in the best way they knew how … answering phones.
When the FortisBC call centre got the call to help, they answered it. FortisBC assisted the British Columbia Economic Development Association and launched a business recovery hotline to help businesses get the support they needed to resume normal business activities during and following the wildfires.
“Last summer the wildfires impacted many of the communities in which we live and work,” said Dawn Mehrer, vice president of customer contact centres, FortisBC. “It hit home for us. Caring for our communities in difficult times is of the utmost importance for us at FortisBC. We received an overwhelmingly positive response from our employees who wanted to be part of our recovery hotline.”
Workers at the centre fielded 493 calls from Cariboo businesses who were affected by the wildfires.
On Thursday, the B.C. Economic Development Association presented the FortisBC employees with a plaque in recognition of the hard work they did to help during a time of crisis.
Emily Columbo, who works with the B.C. Wildfire Recovery Branch and is the economic development officer for the Cariboo, said the hotline helped immensely.
“During the early days of the fires, July 7 and onward, we were very grateful for the outreach and support by both the BCEDA and FortisBC,” Columbo told FortisBC employees. “Your employees went above and beyond fielding those calls. I know those calls were not always easy ones to field. Hearing from business who had been deeply impacted by the fires and highway closures could not have been easy.”
Amy Reid, economic development officer with the City of Quesnel and BCEDA board representative, told the employees that business owners who called were pleased with the response they received.
“After the calls came in here, I did a lot of the follow up calls in the Quesnel area,” she said. “What I heard from our businesses was how grateful they were that when they made that call they were dealing with people who were familiar with Quesnel, who didn’t pronounce the ‘s’ in the middle of it, and, in a lot of cases, who knew their businesses and that really meant a lot.”
Dale Wheeldon, president and CEO British Columbia Economic Development Association said the association has a disaster recovery plan, which kicked in July 7 when the fires started.
“Doing the hotline was a new thing for us as part of our disaster recovery program,” he said. “This was a bit different. The hotline is something we need to do next time something happens.”
And a big thing for the association was follow up. Businesses owners were calling the hotline to get information and he told the FortisBC employees to fielded those calls that businesses got the information they needed.
“Every time you took a call and every time a business owner said they wanted a call back, they received a call,” he said. “We had volunteers across Canada who were willing to help.”
He said the association logged more than 2,000 calls back to business owners seeking information and/or help. Information was also provided to the Red Cross, which was on the ground providing assistance.