When does an emergency become a disaster?
What was intended to be an overview of the Wetaskiwin Emergency Management system for the Victim Services staff and advocates, the presentation by Fire Chief, Merlin Klassen turned into a lengthy and very informative and entertaining presentation.
“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.” He noted that some of the Victim Services staff had attended the presentation by Slave Lake Fire Chief Jamie Coutts who shared his personal experience during the massive Slave Lake fire and the need to plan and be prepared for disasters.
Fire Chief Klassen described how Emergency Management and the City's Emergency Response Plan work in Wetaskiwin. “The ultimate purpose of emergency management is to save lives, preserve the environment and protect property and the economy.” 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.
“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.
Emergency Management and the operations of the EOC follow the Incident Command System which has five major areas; Command, Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance. This system can be expanded or reduced dependant on the needs of the emergency but maintains an effective span of control to maintain responder safety and effectively manage and mitigate the situation.”
How does Victim Services fit in ?
In response to the needs of victims, the Wetaskiwin Municipal RCMP and Rural RCMP, in partnership with the Wetaskiwin and District Victim Services Society developed a Victim Services Unit. Victim Services provides support, information and appropriate referrals which aid in minimizing the crisis victims undergo when victims of a crime or tragedy.
Fire Chief Klassen sees a role for Victim Services in Emergency Management in Wetaskiwin and region. “Having Victim Services staff understand how the Emergency Management system here at the City is activated, managed and what their roles and responsibilities are ensures that we have a high level of preparedness and enhances the services we can provide to the community during large scale emergencies and disasters. Victim Services will begin their participation by having one spot at the Emergency Management Agency meeting which meets at a minimum of 3 times a year. This is where we discuss risks to the community and develop plans in preparation for that type of event.”
Emergency management is comprised of four interdependent components.
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.
Chief Klassan sees Victim Services assisting with Mitigation and Preparedness and Recovery. “Victim Services could be part of the response phase assisting with the set-up of reception centres and dealing with residents there or at larger incidents they may be at the emergency site applying and using their skills for residents and responders.
During the Recovery phase is when this groups specialized skills would be of great value as residents, business owners and responders work towards returning to a new state of normality.”
Klassan summarized the role for Victim Services. “There is a strong relationship between long-term sustainable recovery and prevention and mitigation of future disasters. Recovery efforts should be conducted with a view towards disaster risk reduction.”It is comforting to know the City has a well-developed plan in the event there is a disaster. Just hope it is never needed.