Background and Importance
During my co-op term I was given the opportunity by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to travel to Lillooet in September of 2019 to help out with the Big Bar landslide response team.
The Big Bar landslide was a large rockfall in a remote part of the Fraser River (60 kilometers north of Lillooet), accessible only by poorly maintained logging roads and helicopter. The volume of rock fell 125 meters, higher than the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and landed in the river creating a 5 meter waterfall in vital Salmon spawning habitat.
The response to this incident had to be quick and decisive. Operations involved moving fish by truck and helicopter, acoustic monitoring above and below the slide area, and rock manipulation and detonation on the cliff. The Incident Command Post (ICP) in Lillooet was manned by as many as 100 people at a time in Federal, Provincial, and Indigenous government roles working up to 12 hour days – and longer at the site – to achieve natural and artificial fish passage.
As a co-op student and communications assistant with the DFO, my job was to support the Information team, whose job was to communicate information to and from the incident command center (ICP). I was able to work out of Lillooet for over a week from September 15th to 26th and flew up to the site twice by helicopter to gather footage.
My other job, however, was to create a small video project documenting the experiences of the employees working on the project. While I was there nearly three months post-rockfall, many of the employees had been there in the weeks before, observing the progress and changes that came about. To accurately portray this experience, I asked 5 questions to various important figures from different roles in both the ICP and government:
- What is your name?
- What is your role here at the ICP?
- What is your role in your day job?
- What have you learned from this joint command initiative?
- What have you enjoyed most?
I was tasked with summarizing this information in a two to three minute video. However, after interviewing more than 10 people it became obvious that everything could not be covered in such a short timespan and I was permitted to extend it to 10 minutes. This video’s purpose was twofold: to educate the public on the daily lives of workers during a major government response and to serve as a tool for future command systems during a similar response in the future.
What I learned
I learned that interviewing people on a busy and constantly changing job site can be a very stressful task. To minimize any difficulties, planning everything in advance – interview questions, subjects, locations, and equipment – was necessary to keep everything moving smoothly. Because I had a limited idea of the extent of the operation when I arrived, figuring out which questions to ask was also a priority, and I was able to recruit help from colleagues for which questions to ask and how to frame them.
One of the main difficulties I faced while filmmaking at the ICP was availability of equipment and editing software and hardware. Because I had to bring everything I used, I was not able to bring along any sort of DSLR + tripod + shotgun microphone setup as I would have liked for a standard interview setup, let alone a lighting system. I was able to borrow a GoPro Hero 5 and Karma Grip handheld stabilizing rig and used a mobile phone to record audio, which I synchronized using Adobe Premiere Pro. There was a great deal of multitasking involved between keeping the subject centred on the GoPro, audible on the microphone, and asking or clarifying questions. This led me to recruit some of my co-workers in the information trailer to help out when they were available and taught me important lessons about teamwork and leadership.
I was also able to work closely with an award winning Indigenous photographer and videographer, Trevor Mack, who gave me valuable input on my project and tips for shooting. Trevor had an interesting point of view as the Big Bar landslide occurred on unceded native land with important historical landmarks of great significance. This meant great care had to be taken when constructing the roads around the site as not to destroy ancient pit houses and settlement areas.
To be continued…
Although the incident command post has been dissolved for the winter and command structure changed, the Big Bar landslide remains a work-in-progress in the coming years. I have a number of related projects – a photobook for all employees who participated, a 3D model of the slide using GIS data, and a website where employees can go to retrieve photos.