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.
Trudy Rangen, of the Blindman Valley Lions Club, provided a short write-up of the group’s involvement with the exercise.
“In the town of Bentley, members of the Blindman Valley Lions participated with the laborious task of information collection. Gathering at the community hall, 25 young teenage students from Bentley School arrived playing the parts of people needing assistance. They were provided with sheets of paper giving them each a script describing themselves as community members who found themselves displaced by this disaster,” Rangen wrote.
“It was quite eye opening,” said Lion member Lindell Ryan. “We take for granted our safety and security. None of us has that plan in place. What are you grabbing if you had minutes to leave?”
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 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.