March 21, 2013 was a day of chaos along Highway QE II south of Millet as a huge pileup of cars, trucks buses and semis were scattered across the roads and in the ditches. The Town of Millet and City of Wetaskiwin were quick to respond in spite of terrible driving conditions and poor visibility. Originally it was reported 300 people were injured but that was later down sized to 100 people.
According to retired Fire Chief of the Millet Fire Department, “Millet Fire was in command of the scene under Chief Blair Mohr. When we first got on scene and realized it was in excess of 20 vehicles, we immediately called in Mutual Aide. We knew we would be overwhelmed if we didn’t get Wetaskiwin’s assistance on this.”
City of Wetaskiwin Manager Ted Gillespie describes how the Emergency Services Plan responded to the emergency. “As you know, our Emergency Services crews responded to the Highway 2 accident as a part of our agreement with the County. Normally a vehicle accident would not activate any part of our Emergency Services Plan, but with the number of people stranded it became obvious that additional assistance was required. Merlin (Klassen, Fire Chief) gave me a call at about noon on Thursday to obtain buses to assist. Three buses were made available and I put Merlin directly in touch with the drivers”.
As the accident victim’s vehicles were not going anywhere, they were transported to Wetaskiwin, and Ponoka. With the three Wetaskiwin buses, a Greyhound and Red Arrow bus, there were about 100 people (to host and take care of). A reception centre was set up at the Drill Hall. Therese, Karen and Cindy from the city office, as well as Carrie from the Fire office, and some people from Victims Services assisted. Coffee, tea and food was brought in thanks to the generosity of several local businesses. Victims stayed at the reception centre while they made other arrangements and everyone was gone before midnight.
Gillespie explains the effectiveness of emergency planning “This was a good exercise of a portion of our Emergency Management Plan. With an Emergency Management Plan in place, and especially if it has been practiced, when something like this does occur, everyone has a basic idea of what to do so it makes decisions easier, allows quicker set up, and better service”.
Even though this was not really a local emergency, Wetaskiwin showed a lot of good will in assisting these people, and many of them were very grateful. Within the next few weeks there will be a de-briefing to see what we can do to refine our system.”
Merlin Klassen, Fire Chief Wetaskiwin has been diligently working on the establishment and implementation of the Emergency Management system to effectively manage an emergency such as this. “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. One of the key efficiency components of our plan is that we do not have to fully activate the plan or the EOC (Emergency Operations Centre). We are able to access portions of the plan to assist with the issue or incident at hand. As in this case, (the Highway QE II pile-up) we required assistance with the number of people involved based on the weather conditions.”
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 the allocation of 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.”
Wetaskiwin Was There To Help
City of Wetaskiwin Communications Coordinator, Dale Cory reports: “Wetaskiwin Emergency Services were one of the responders to the 100 vehicle collision which occurred on Highway 2 near Millet. Due to the large number of people that were stranded on Highway 2, arrangements were made to transport some individuals to Wetaskiwin. Initially transportation was going to be to the Fire Station; however, because there were too many people to be accommodated, a reception centre was opened at the Drill Hall. The reception centre was opened at 3:30 p.m. Ninety individuals signed in at the reception centre – they were provided with water, coffee, tea or hot chocolate and sandwiches from Subway. (Dry socks were also available) Tim Horton’s kindly provided a large container of coffee. Some made arrangements for Hotel rooms, a group of Ministry students were billeted by members of the church and others were transported to Edmonton by a Red Arrow bus, Greyhound bus and ETS buses. A couple of individuals made arrangements for transportation by family or friends. Although arrangements were made for a few cots and blankets from Wal-Mart, these were not required. The reception centre closed at approximately 10:45 p.m. A debriefing will occur in the near future with those who were involved, FCSS, Emergency Services and senior administration to review the response and revise and update the City disaster response plan with respect to activation of a reception centre.
The City of Wetaskiwin offers special thanks to: “Victim Services – Rhonda Stoneouse and Bernie Hafpner ; Wetaskiwin Trans Comm for transportation; Therese Myndio, Karen Schatschneider, Carrie Suchotsky and Cindy Kellerman; Calvin Hansen and City of Wetaskiwin Arena Staff ; The Volunteer Fire Department ; Subway, Tim Horton’s , Wal-Mart.”
Regardless of how efficient each of the agencies performed their roles in the recent accident, the entire process should bring comfort to the residents of Wetaskiwin and region knowing how effectively it was carried out. But it doesn’t stop there. Recommendations for improvement will be recorded for both individual agencies and the collective operating procedures. This will enable a well-planned response to a disaster, should it occur in the future.