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Emergency officials in Dawson City, Yukon, talk about flood preparedness ahead of spring thaw

Flood waters seen at Henderson Corner near Dawson City, Yukon, in May 2023. On Thursday, local emergency officials held a public information session for residents to hear about how they're preparing for any potential flooding again this spring. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC - image credit)
Flood waters seen at Henderson Corner near Dawson City, Yukon, in May 2023. On Thursday, local emergency officials held a public information session for residents to hear about how they're preparing for any potential flooding again this spring. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC - image credit)

Emergency officials say they're preparing for potential flooding again this spring in Dawson City, Yukon, but some residents are not impressed by what they've heard so far.

On Thursday, the Dawson City Fire Department held a public information session at the town's council chambers to discuss emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.

"Every emergency is different," said fire chief Mike Masserey. "For most emergencies, we recommend everybody does that 72-hour kit."

Officials say a basic 72-hour preparedness kit should have things like water, food, a battery-powered flashlight, radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, and important family documents including a copy of an emergency plan.

Last May, ice jams on the Klondike River, combined with some heavy rains, caused flooding in the Rock Creek, Henderson Corner and Dredge Pond areas. Some properties were evacuated.

Masserey, the town's emergency coordinator, explained that in the event of flooding this year, an emergency control group which consists of six people will get together at the town's municipal office.

"[We] sit down and say, 'this is what's happening. Right now we're just going to watch it.' If it starts to escalate, then step two, step three, step four is all coming from that group."

Other preparation plans

Masserey said a major problem that arose during last spring's flooding was a lack of communication between officials and the public.

"Public information in our last emergencies have been difficult, and non-existent in some of them," Masserey said.

On Thursday, the Dawson City Fire Department held a public information session to discuss the town's emergency plan ahead of the upcoming flood season.
On Thursday, the Dawson City Fire Department held a public information session to discuss the town's emergency plan ahead of the upcoming flood season.

Thursday's public information session in Dawson. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

One way he hopes to fix that is with a newly-installed FM antenna.

"We have an FM broadcasting station, and we'll be sending out emergency kits that will include an FM radio and a bunch of safety instructions."

Masserey also said that he wants to establish a volunteer coordination system. He noted last year people wanted to volunteer by filling sandbags, but did not know who to contact or where to go.

Masserey said students at the Robert Service School are also stepping up to learn how to fill sandbags. The town also has a device Masserey calls an "octopus," that will allow for multiple sandbags to be filled at once.

Dawson's search and rescue team leader, John Mitchell, also spoke at Thursday's public session and said it simply boils down to personal preparedness.

"Take a look at what you can do on your property," Mitchell said. "It's as simple as getting stuff off of the floor," Mitchell said.

"Set up your own comms [communication] with a buddy. You're talking to them everyday, and if all of a sudden you go offline, they can call in. Make your own safety net and please take care of your own safety as much as you can."

'Vague' presentation, say some residents

Resident Kim Biernaski, who lives near the Dredge Pond subdivision, was at Thursday's information session and left feeling unimpressed.

Last spring, she found her property submerged under flowing river water and had no way of communicating with anyone. She says she was trapped at her home until a friend came by with a boat and hauled her to safety.

Biernaski said she is still trying to recover from last year's events, and so she went to the meeting this week with hopes of hearing there was a solid emergency response plan in place for this spring.

Dawson resident Kim Biernaski's property flooded last Spring. Biernaski said she was expecting more information from the emergency response information session hosted by the town's fire department.
Dawson resident Kim Biernaski's property flooded last Spring. Biernaski said she was expecting more information from the emergency response information session hosted by the town's fire department.

Dawson resident Kim Biernaski's property flooded last spring. Biernaski said she was expecting more information from Thursday's session hosted by the town's fire department. (Kim Biernaski)

"The presentation was very vague," she said. "You know, there's no phone numbers or people to get in touch with... They didn't mention anything about the problem areas. They didn't mention anything about new communication between the hydrologist and the EMO [emergency measures organization] or the fire chief.

"I really didn't learn anything new. I expected more."

Biernaski did learn that her property is again at risk of flooding. Masserey told her that as it stands right now, the river level is already above the elevation of her property.

Biernaski told CBC News that's unsettling but also said she's been preparing her property for months in case of another flood.

She said she is disappointed that she left another information session with more questions than answers.

"I was having an awfully nice spring day at home," she said. "I wish I would have stayed home."