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Lacombe County played out emergency scenario

LREMP brought together 13 partner communities for full-scale emergency exercise
Pictured is the incident command post at the summer villages office in Sylvan Lake. (Photo by Michaela Ludwig)

If a disaster strikes, it’s important for those in a position of authority to be as prepared as possible.

On Oct. 26, the Lacombe Regional Emergency Management Partnership (LREMP) executed a full-scale emergency exercise involving all of the partner municipalities – Lacombe County, Lacombe, Blackfalds, Eckville, Bentley, Clive, Alix and the five summer villages around Sylvan Lake, which are Gull Lake, Birchcliff, Sunbreaker Cove, Half Moon Bay, Jarvis Bay and Norglenwold. The exercise simulated a broad-spread emergency across Lacombe County, a severe winter storm, and envisioned all municipalities being affected.

“What we simulated was that the communities of Alix and Clive were dealing with a water supply issue as a result of the storm,” explained Drayton Bussiere, Lacombe County fire chief. “The communities on the west side of the county – Eckville, Bentley and the five summer villages – they were dealing with long-term power outages. Lacombe and Blackfalds opened what we called reception centres because the storm caused evacuations, and Lacombe County supported all of this activity.”

Incident command posts were set up in Alix, Clive, Lacombe, Blackfalds, Bentley, Eckville and in the summer villages office in Sylvan Lake. An emergency co-ordination centre was set up in Lacombe County and Bussiere was the commander in charge there.

In addition to simulating this disastrous act of nature, there were about 200 actors, students from the communities and local volunteers, involved in the exercise by making phone calls and pretending to be residents of these communities with questions or issues that needed to be addressed and some acted as evacuees that needed to be transported to one of the reception centres.

While there was no actual disruption of water or power, LREMP made the exercise as real as possible.

“We are physically calling for equipment and other things we need, so we can feel how it would be in an emergency,” said Tanner Evans, chief administrative officer for the five summer villages and incident commander for that command post. “We’re calling Fortis, we’re calling contractors. We’re trying to make it as real as possible.”

The summer villages office had 25 mock evacuees come in and Evans said the team went through the process of actually evacuating them – what paperwork needed to be filled out, how do they get to the office, where do they go from the office and, once the proper reception centre was determined, Evans put all of the evacuees in a vehicle and took them there.

“In an actual emergency, this is what we’d have to do,” he said. “The whole point is to feel it out.”

Evans explained that not all staff in these municipalities are trained in emergency management and that this exercise was certainly stressful for many employees.

“We’re trying to get used to it, get comfortable with it,” he said. “Having all of the communities doing this together makes this unique. But a partnership like this that works well together is so beneficial.”

With the students, volunteers and staff from the different municipalities, about 360 people were involved in the Oct. 26 exercise.

“It went really well,” said Bussiere. “We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback. Our overall objectives were met, so we’re really happy with it.”

While LREMP has existed for a number of years and the municipalities do train together, Bussiere said the group normally does tabletop exercises, which are smaller and more discussion based. This was the first full-scale exercise LREMP has completed.

“This exercise gave us a real opportunity to use all of those skills we’ve been working on and put them together in a near-real event,” said Bussiere. “It gives us the opportunity to do the things we say we’re going to do in a large event, and all of the communities become safer because of this.”

Putting this exercise together took about a year of planning, with Fortis Alberta, the province, Wolf Creek Public Schools and LREMP all working together.

“We want to be able to confidently say that when and if a large emergency happens, we are ready and prepared to handle it. And after this, we can definitely say that’s true,” said Bussiere.

Sylvan Lake, in particular, is in a unique position with LREMP. While three of the five summer villages are within Lacombe County, the other two and the town of Sylvan Lake fall within Red Deer County. However, all five summer villages adhere to LREMP, but Sylvan Lake’s emergency management plan is with Red Deer County.

Bussiere explained that Lacombe County works closely with Red Deer County when it comes to emergency management.

“We participate in a regional management group that was created a number of years ago and Lacombe County and Red Deer County train together and communicate regularly,” Bussiere said. “The actual plans are very similar and they would, could and do work together very well.”