Mayor of Slave Lake
On Friday, April 29, our region hosted EMX 17. This is an emergency exercise that involves hundreds of people over multiple agencies. The question came up over the weekend, why we spend time and money doing this? As a result I thought it would be a good topic to cover.
We have a regional fire service that covers over 10,000 sq. KM. We have five halls, over a hundred volunteers and lots of equipment. Our regional fire service responds to over 300 calls per year and these range from motor vehicle accidents, house fires, grass and forest fires, flooding, ATV accidents, missing people, water rescue, a guy stuck in a crane at one of the mills, plane crash and even cat in a tree.
What is evident is we have a very dedicated group of volunteers responding to a diverse set of circumstances. Most of these incidents involve multiple agencies. The fire department is one piece and often ambulance and RCMP are also involved. It is easy to forget other agencies though, including Forestry, Fish and Wildlife, schools, our Town and MD Staff, Sawridge First Nation, our regional bylaw officers, Search and Rescue, utility companies and the list continues. In the event of an emergency how well these groups work together and communicate with each other can be the difference between success and failure.
In the past several years we have had some major incidents in our area. From forest fires that threatened our communities, to forest fires that came into our communities, flooding, train derailments, search and rescue and even a period where we had no 911 coverage when Telus hit one of their own cables. In order to deal with these situations we have to have a plan.
Luckily before the fire in 2011 we had a plan, and after that incident we have spent time and money working on that plan to refine it and make it better. Annually we pull out that plan and do a table top exercise where all the agencies involved go through a scenario and discuss strategies to deal with that scenario. Every few years we act out that scenario to see how what we have learned on paper works in real life.
This training helps us to understand what works well in our system and what needs to be changed. It highlights gaps in the system and it creates ideas and innovation. This past weekend we hosted one of those events. At the same time , the association “Alberta Search and Rescue” brought over 200 people from throughout Alberta to learn and practice in our community.
Obviously there is tremendous economic benefit to having 200 people come stay in our hotels, buy goods in our stores and see what our community has to offer. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase our region, which is a leader in emergency preparedness. This weekend we had provincial leaders who deal with emergency management watching and analyzing what we are doing. They offered advice, expertise and were impressed with the system and set-up we have in the region.
Is there a cost? Obviously yes. Training always has a cost. The cheapest thing is to do nothing, but sending people out to help you in your time of need who are not trained doesn’t seem like good business sense either. It is important to note that we did leverage grants for this past weekend to offset some of those costs.
As we roll into fire season and the snow is finally gone (fingers crossed), there is no doubt our people will be on high alert. Luckily we have invested in communication upgrades, emergency siren, back-up generation, facility upgrades, training, and technology to make us better prepared to deal with emergencies that come up. We have a plan, we have trained on that plan and we have practiced that plan.
By no means am I saying we have nothing to worry about, nor am I saying nothing bad will ever happen. What I am saying is that when things do go sideways I have faith in the many people who live in and protect this region and the agencies they work for. My hope is that you do too!