When it comes to disasters most municipalities aren’t ready for what’s in store. This is where the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) has stepped in to provide that much-needed training.
A special emergency preparedness exercise was held at the Ponoka County office last week with experts from AEMA showing first responders from around central Alberta just what it takes to deal with a multi-day emergency situation.
The exercise lasted several days and provided a hard look at what it really takes to set up an emergency operations centre to support a municipality in a major state of emergency.
Speaking to the program was Bob Ford, AEMA manager of regional operations, who said the goal is to educate as much of the province as possible through these scenarios. Findings in post-disaster reports such as from the Fort McMurray wildfires recognized that there is a real need for regional training, which is another reason AEMA has stepped up to the plate.
Ford said it’s about building capacity to manage emergency events.
“Typically municipalities in Alberta lack the depth to do multi-day operations and often don’t have a level of training that allows them to manage complex events,” said Ford.
The province has been broken up into regions and then multiple municipalities in those areas will come together for these multi-day training events. The agency has four years of funding specifically to train municipalities and build teams on the ins and outs of big emergencies.
The training presented to crews had to do with a major wind event in Rimbey that took out much of the supporting infrastructure. This has some similarities to what occurred in Red Deer last year, explained Dave Brand, director of community and protective services with Red Deer County.
Red Deer County was the municipality that took on the grant for this training experience. Brand said this was a valuable exercise not only for the training that it brought, but also for the opportunity to meet other first responders.
“Everybody knows in this business the relationships are built before. You don’t want to be building relationships on scene,” said Brand.
Ford added that the exercise builds capacity with the advanced training, plus mentors in other emergency management agencies take part. In a real emergency many of these individuals will be working together.
During the scenario, crews were taking phone calls, looking at maps, managing their meals and dealing with the press, much like any other emergency situation.
“There’s nothing you can do to prepare for emergency management and incident management than getting 16 to 30 people in a room solving complex problems,” said Ford.
Dennis Jones, director of emergency operations for Ponoka County, pointed out that most times an emergency consists of one operational period. Crews are usually called to a collision, or structure fire but not a major disaster that needs multiple shifts and personnel to manage the situation.
The point, said Brand, is to ensure the logistics needed to function in a lengthy emergency are taken care of. He pointed out that time still moves forward and life continues on while handling an event.
“The whole idea is to help those people responding,” said Jones, adding that at Fort McMurray, emergency crews were forecasting days in advance for what needed to occur.
The full training is seven days broken into three blocks. Ford said that municipal staff will then take that training to their own communities.