Disaster Response Routes

In an emergency, critical seconds can save lives. Disaster response routes are designated for use by emergency personnel during an emergency or disaster situation such as an earthquake.

During a major emergency event a Disaster Response Transportation Strategy may be put into effect by regional and provincial authorities.

Disaster response routes will be activated as needed by authorities following a declaration of a local or provincial state of emergency.

Disaster Response Route signs indicate routes that are designated for use by emergency personnel during an emergency situation.

If you find yourself on a disaster response route during an emergency, exit the route as soon as possible to make way for first responder personnel. 

Obey traffic signs and traffic control personnel at all times. It is recommended that members of the public listen to the radio and monitor media for updates to find out which routes are open to non-emergency traffic. Stay informed on www.DriveBC.ca

British Columbia is susceptible to numerous natural hazards including:

  • earthquakes
  • tsunamis
  • floods
  • wildfires
  • chemical spills

Transportation is a crucial element in response and recovery following a major emergency event. It is paramount to establish and coordinate the safe movement of emergency personnel, resources and impacted persons during a disaster event.

Using Disaster Response Routes

The following identification is required to use these routes when activated:

  • Canadian or provincial government issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s licence, BC Services Card, Canadian passport, Protocol Identity Card)
  • Employment identification (e.g. business cards or other identification issued by the employer). This identification is for transportation only and unrelated to identification required

Emergency first responders will be given special permits that allow them to use the routes in the case of an emergency.

Types of Disaster Response Routes

The province recommends the establishment of four types of routes:

Critical/Priority Routes

Communities purposefully develop key routes to mitigate any damage that may be caused by a disaster.  The management of priority routes was improved with the designation of disaster response routes in 1995 in the Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria areas.  The priority route concept has evolved to encompass all aspects of transportation and a renaming of the system to Disaster Response Transportation. Planning includes:

  • Purposefully developing key routes for resilience planning
  • Categorizing transportation infrastructure in order to help plan key routes available, at minimum, for emergency responders and emergency resources immediately after a disaster. Critical routes may include a combination of municipal, provincial and federal infrastructure and are the primary corridors of movement in an impact area.  
  • Designing pre-disaster, critical route infrastructure engineered to meet performance levels necessary to support all types of traffic post-disaster.  
  • Post-disaster, critical route infrastructure will have priority for reconnaissance, damage assessment and re-establishment of use.  

Disaster Response Routes need to be adjustable to meet the needs of a particular emergency. Like any infrastructure, these routes are susceptible to hazards and could potentially be negatively impacted by the emergency event.

Short Term Disaster Response Routes

Short term routes consist of coordinated convoys for emergency personnel and resources. When short term routes are utilized, police or peace officer escort will be used to move the convoy.

Medium Term Disaster Response Routes

Medium term routes are established during a local and/or provincial state of emergency when the power to control or prohibit travel to or from any area of British Columbia is in effect. For road transportation, the general public will be restricted from routes through the use of traffic control devices and mechanisms. Routes may utilize both directions of travel (e.g. both north-bound and south-bound), one direction of travel (e.g. northbound only) or specific lanes of travel (e.g. HOV or bus lane only).

Long Term Disaster Response Routes

Long term routes may be required after the local and/or provincial states of emergency have expired. For road transportation, long term routes require one of or both:

  • a municipal council to pass a resolution or bylaw to restrict use of municipal roads
  • the province to make a regulation to restrict use of provincial highways

The general public will be restricted from long term routes through the use of traffic control devices and mechanisms.

Establishment of Disaster Response Routes

Disaster Response Routes are coordinated regionally and/or provincially by the Transportation Branch located within the Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centres (PREOCs) and the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre (PECC).

In an emergency, critical seconds can save lives. Disaster response routes enable emergency services and supplies to move quickly to where the need is greatest. Disaster response transportation strategies are important for the safe and coordinated movement of emergency personnel, resources and impacted persons following a disaster event in B.C. to:

  1. Ensure the health and safety of first responders
  2. Save lives
    • Put out fires and control hazards
    • Rescue people missing or trapped in damaged structures
    • Diagnose, treat and support the sick and injured
    • Transport sick and injured persons to places of treatment
    • Maintain law and order
    • Assess, operate and maintain disaster response transportation infrastructure
    • Perform authorized evacuations
    • Support and manage an activated Emergency Operations Centre
  3. Reduce Suffering
  4. Protect public health
  5. Protect critical infrastructure
  6. Protect property
    • Protect public health and prevent the spread of communicable disease
    • Provide emergency social service assistance to individuals who are forced to leave their homes
    • Offer short-term volunteer support to local authorities during emergency response
    • Transport displaced people to points of collection (mass transit)
    • Repair, protect or re-establish critical infrastructure necessary to sustain response efforts  
    • Maintain business continuity for services necessary to support response and recovery efforts
  7. Protect the environment
  8. Reduce economic and social losses
    • Protect private and community property during response
    • Assess and mitigate environmental impacts
    • Activate business continuity plan to reduce loss of employment, investment and development during response