Just in Case

Pipestone Flyer

Sharla Campbell, FCSS Coordinator, City of Wetaskiwin and Mr. Tom Cox, Emergency Management Training Officer, Government of Alberta

If there is a disaster, is Wetaskiwin ready?     A crane in Calgary’s downtown is unstable. The bridge over the Elbow River by the Stampede grounds is structurally unsound. Water fills a construction pit in the blossoming East Village – a hole where a building was supposed to emerge.

    Monday (June 23, 2013) marks this city’s fifth day in a state of emergency, and even as power is expected to return to most of downtown early this week, Alberta’s largest city will remain ugly and dangerous. Source – Globe and Mail

    Hope we won’t need it, but if the Wetaskiwin region experiences an emergency or disaster, a great deal of work has gone into ensuring the community is prepared.  Part of this on-going planning process was the presentation of two courses to agencies and community volunteers who assist with providing support in the event of an emergency.  On June 19th, 2013, Mr. Tom Cox, Emergency Management Training Officer, Government of Alberta provided an overview of the process of evacuating and meeting the needs of people in the case of a disaster or emergency. He also provided practical tips on what to do and what not to do. Mr. Cox stressed the importance of planning and especially the process of managing volunteers to accommodate a wide variety of needs of the victims of the disaster.

The two Emergency Social Services courses hosted by the City of Wetaskiwin were:

(1) Registration and Inquiry- If residents are evacuated from their homes (or off the highway in the event of a snowstorm) to a Reception Centre, we need trained people to assist in registering them and providing information to family that may be trying to find if they are safe. 

(2) Including Persons with Disabilities in Emergency Plans – If you work with clients with disabilities of any sort, this course will be invaluable to you in supporting their needs in the event of an emergency.  Mr. Cox described the people who are to be considered with functional needs,  “People of all ages who because of a physical, mental, sensory or cognitive limitation cannot always comfortably or safely use some of the standard resources offered in disaster preparedness, relief, recovery and mitigation. Some examples of people requiring special attention were surprising;  people with serious mental illness, elderly, minority groups, non-English speakers, unaccompanied minors, single working parents, people without vehicles, people with specific dietary needs, pregnant women, and people who are homeless.”

The courses were free-of-charge. 

    The City of Wetaskiwin has an Emergency Management Plan for our community and FCSS is responsible for the Emergency Social Services support required during any emergency. Fire Chief, Merlin Klassen advised, “Our Emergency Management system is already established and like most plans it is a living document and is constantly being modified and updated based on the needs of the community and the availability of staff and volunteers. Emergency management bases its plans on the worst case scenario. In other words when an emergency grows beyond the resources of a City department to mitigate effectively, the  Emergency Operations Centre (EOC)  may be activated. This brings senior decision makers into one location which allows for the development of action plans and to allocate resources that will support the incident site while still maintaining service levels to City residents. The EOC staff also start to develop plans for the recovery efforts to assist residents and business owners.”

    Klassen describes four interdependent components of emergency management.

Prevention & Mitigation- Eliminate or reduce the risks of disasters in order to protect lives, property, the environment, and reduce economic disruption.

Preparedness – Be ready to respond to a disaster and manage its consequences through measures taken prior to an event, for example emergency response plans, mutual assistance agreements, resource inventories and training, equipment, and exercise programs.

Response – Act during or immediately before or after a disaster to manage its consequences through, for example, emergency public communication, search and rescue, emergency medical assistance and evacuation to minimize suffering and losses associated with disasters.

Recovery – Repair or restore conditions to an acceptable level through measures taken after a disaster, for example, return of evacuees, trauma counseling, reconstruction, economic impact studies and financial assistance.

    Klassen stressed that when managing emergencies, the protection of life is of highest importance followed by any of the other three depending on the specific circumstances. “The ultimate purpose of emergency management is to save lives, preserve the environment and protect property and the economy.”