Dion Arnouse is an emergency management specialist responsible for engaging more than 100 Aboriginal communities along the pipeline route about Trans Mountain’s Geographical Response Planning activities and Emergency Management Program. He spent 23 years in the RCMP and is a member of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band. Dion is passionate about working with Aboriginal communities to identify their concerns about pipeline emergencies and conducting workshops that can help communities refine local emergency response plans.

We recently spoke with Dion to get his thoughts on the importance of emergency preparedness for communities.

Why is this work important to you?

When I was approached about being part of this project, I jumped on board right away. It’s all about making a difference and creating a safety culture within Aboriginal communities. Being First Nations myself, I understand it’s vital to those communities to protect their land and water. I see this as an opportunity to make a difference, to be a part of the planning process and more importantly, collaborating and developing something that’s industry leading.

What benefits does your work provide?

The principles behind emergency management, when you talk about Incident Command Systems and Unified Command, are really universal. So although the work I do for the Project is oriented around pipeline operations, the principles we teach can apply to any emergency.

When you have a plan in place, the real work of managing an emergency can proceed. The reality is that over 40 or 50 years, a community may never be called on to deal with an oil spill, but it may respond to a number of other incidents — such as a flood or a fire. Those events are more likely than a pipeline incident.

What does your work entail?

Prior to working on this project, I spent about 23 years delivering emergency management programs and I was a first responder in Aboriginal communities.

In my role with the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, I’ve engaged approximately 100 communities all the way from Edmonton to the Lower Mainland. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it. You have to approach each community individually, take the time to meet one-on-one, collaborate and make sure you capture each community’s specific concerns with respect to the environment, water and community safety.

What kind of things do you collaborate on?

We collaborate on the development of the local geographic response plans. We conduct workshops, have one-on-one meetings and then facilitate fieldwork with the communities. It’s a collaborative effort — we see Aboriginal communities as traditional stewards of the land who hold information that’s vital to developing the very best plans possible.

The environment is usually a big concern and so is the water, in particular protection of the salmon. I come from a community that’s home to the third largest salmon run in the world so I have a clear understanding of how important it is for us to make efforts to protect that resource.

What sort of feedback are Aboriginal communities providing?

First and foremost, we listen to their concerns. We are doing the fieldwork directly with Aboriginal communities, working side by side with them in the field and having them point out their concerns and having them see that those concerns are being put right into our Geographic Response Plan. Trans Mountain invests a lot of resources into this particular initiative.

They’ve been invited to participate in training exercises and drills, and offered training in the Incident Command System and Unified Command. Historically this is one area where they have been challenged — getting Emergency Response Plans implemented or getting long-term support.

From my perspective as a First Nations consultant working with Kinder Morgan Canada, the level of detail going into the planning is extensive. The critical point is that we are meeting with and collaborating with Aboriginal communities on the development of this plan.

How do you spend your spare time away from work?

I enjoy time with my family, hiking, fitness and spending time with my daughter.

When I talk to my daughter about my work, one of her responses back to me is ‘Yeah, but you protect the environment, right?’ We all know you can’t lie to your children, so I feel proud I’m part of a program and an initiative that is actually doing that.”