Last week you may or may not have heard that our region had declared a state of emergency. We had a plane crash, missing people, a building collapse, and even a cougar attack. Power was down throughout much of the Town and MD and people could not heat their homes.
Sounds crazy and it was, but none of it was real. So why did we do it then? Slave Lake has seen its share of adversity over the years and Mother Nature often challenges us. An emergency can come in many different forms and often needs many different people’s input and hard work to be able to battle through it. Being on the Fire Department I saw a lot of planning and co-ordination and co-operation before the fire in 2011, and being in politics, I have learned there can never be too much. Essentially we have an emergency plan that incorporates many different scenarios. That plan is used by the different agencies, as a bible, so that we all train and use the same process. This plan is shared amongst the fire-departments, elected bodies, emergency services, RCMP, utility companies, school divisions, ESRD (forestry, parks, environment, fish and wildlife), etc. This is essentially a huge binder with plans, maps, contact info, policies, procedures, forms etc. Each department or agency requires a ton of equipment to deal with emergencies and these are left to each agency to set up, store, maintain, etc.
Now all this sounds great on paper, but in order to put the system to the test we need to practice it. Last week we did a two day mock scenario that involved all the agencies listed above as well as many more. Hundreds of people took part. This is not the first time we have done something like this, but I would safely say we have rarely if ever done one like this on such a grand scale. The incident included real life patients, scenarios, use of a variety of sites and facilities around town. The event was taken very seriously, we gave regular communication to the public, there were news conferences, hourly situational report meetings, and debriefs. A special thank you goes out to Sara Cyr who put makeup on several victims on Wednesday and another 25 people on Thursday to make the event and the experience more lifelike. Two representatives from the Government of Alberta were also on hand for advice and to evaluate.
So what happened at the end of it? I have to confess although I had mixed feelings on the effectiveness of such an exercise; I came out feeling very humbled. The amount of co-operation and communication between the different agencies was impressive. The logistics, attention to detail and the effort put in by all those involved was amazing. There were opportunities found to make the process better and the amount of training people involved got was astounding. In the end I was extremely proud of our region and its people. Although we are living proof that no matter how much you prepare, emergencies can happen, I can tell you there is no where I would feel more safe than right here.
I want to say that it was a great job by all those involved. For those cynical people that think it a waste of time there may come a time when you find yourself in need of help, so take comfort in knowing that they have done this before instead of practicing on you when you need it most.