Hazards include mental health

NANAIMO – The city included mental health in its Hazard Risk and Vulnerability Analysis for the first time.

A common culprit behind threats to this community has a new place in Nanaimo’s hazard rankings.

Mental health has landed on the city’s Hazard Risk and Vulnerability Analysis for the first time as a cause of man-made hazards and an issue grappled with by first responders, bylaw officers and social planning.

The city isn’t aware of any other community in B.C. or Canada that’s included mental health in a hazard assessment, but with 1,300 mental health-related calls to police each year and ties to bomb threats, arson and suicides, local experts wanted to bring the issue to the forefront and look at what can be done better.

The $10,000 review, required under the B.C. Emergency Act, brings organizations, first responders and industry together to look at hazards with the highest potential to affect the community, from hazardous material spills to earthquakes and fire.

New in the analysis since it was last done a decade ago is mine shaft failure, drought and the addition of mental health as a draw on municipal emergency resources and “causal factor” for a lot of man-made hazards.

“It’s a new initiative,” said Toby Seward, city director of social and protective services, about adding mental health into the assessment. “We’ve got to say what’s using our resources in our community and most importantly how can we assist people in need.”

Mental health is estimated to make up 25 per cent of protective services calls.

Last year, it was the primary reason for 1,300 calls to the Nanaimo RCMP but it’s estimated the issues police deal with where mental health is a factor is double that number.

It’s an issue that’s increasing, takes up “significant” man hours and resources, and can potentially affect hazardous or crisis incidents, according to Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Mark Fisher, who says while good things are being done in Nanaimo, seeing it through the causal factor lens brings the situation to the table as a discussion and awareness point around what leads to issues in the community.

Karen Lindsay, the city’s emergency program manager, said it’s on the radar to say there’s more support mechanisms needed.

“We can’t change it,” she said. “But what we can maybe do is have better ways of dealing with it and managing it.”

The next phase is to prioritize hazards and decide how to allocate resources toward mitigating their affects on the community.