Its been a while since I wrote a blog, so I am overdue to write something.
Life has been pretty hectic as we are ramping up for fire season, dealing with some changes at the Legacy Center and refreshing things out at the Visitor Information Center. That being said I am also often struggling to come up with topics to write about, so if you ever have an idea, any help would be appreciated.
At the end of April, our region along with stakeholders across Slave Lake and Alberta come together for EMX 17. If you don’t know what EMX 17 is, or was, it’s an emergency exercise that involves hundreds of people over multiple agencies.
One of big questions that came up after EMX 2017 was why do we spend time and money doing this? As a result, I thought this would be a good topic to cover.
You may not be aware of this but the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Services covers over 10,000 sq KM of the Slave Lake Region.
The Regional Fire Services has five halls, over a hundred volunteers, and lots of equipment. They can respond 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 of a giant puzzle, and often ambulance and RCMP are also involved in calls that our emergency services go to.
Larger emergencies would need to rely on more stakeholders in the region, and more organizations, including Forestry, Fish and Wildlife, Schools, our Town and MD Staff, Sawridge First Nation, our regional bylaw officers, Search and Rescue, Utility Companies and countless others.
In the event of an emergency these groups have to know how to work together, how to communication as a team, as this could mean the success or failure of an emergency.
Over 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 afterwards we spent time and money working on that plan to make it better. Annually we review the 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 a scenario to see how what we have on paper actually 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 for an actual emergency.
Along with EMX 17, The Alberta Search and Rescue association also conducted a weekend exercise, which 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.
Its also a great opportunity to showcase our region which are leaders in emergency preparedness. This weekend we had provincial leaders who deal with emergency management watching and analyzing what we are doing.
Those in attendance offered advice, expertise and were impressed with the system and setup 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, an emergency siren, back-up generators, 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!