Are we ready for a major disaster?

City of Leduc practices emergency response tactics recently.

EMERGENCY - A large group of emergency responders gather at the site of a mock train disaster

It is 7:45 a.m. on a hot summer weekday morning. Multiple calls come in to the regional 911 switchboard. Several City of Leduc residents call in, having heard a terrible noise near their homes; several calls also come in from drivers, shook up by what they just witnessed and the dark menacing smoke that erupts from the incident scene behind the Leduc grain elevator. On this busy commuter street, in the neighbourhood of North Telford, a train has derailed and a toxic substance is burning unchecked. It all happened so fast.

The callers’ information is immediately relayed to Leduc Fire Services. Members on duty jump into the “emergency mode”: key personnel rush to the incident scene to assess the situation. Calls are made to bring in more members, Public Works officials are contacted and manpower must assess the potential danger to the surrounding residences, plan the necessary evacuation and road closures if they become necessary. Emergency personnel deployed to the incident scene report back while some of the emergency response   leaders gather at the EOC (emergency operations centre), in the boardroom of the Leduc Protective Services Building that houses the RCMP detachment and Leduc’s fire house.

In this epicentre of emergency control, maps are laid out, cell phones and radios are at the ready, personnel in charge quickly and calmly deal with the many aspects of protecting the residents and their properties, and ensuring the disaster is under control and that its danger levels will not increase.

No need to be alarmed, dear Leduc residents: on the morning of Wednesday June 10, this scenario took place, not for real, but as an emergency preparedness exercise planned by the City of Leduc to prepare all city personnel for a potential disaster, since several trains run on the CP Rail tracks every day. This year, CP Rail sent its fire simulator machine to the mock train derailment, along with its hazardous materials (Haz Mat) response contractor which provides fire suppression power with hoses that can be hooked up to a fire hydrant or a pumper, a team of two trucks and trailers, and four firefighters. Iron Horse Response of Calgary sent COO Max Thevenot, Garett McKay both experienced firefighters and two other team members to assist in this exercise.

“The City of Leduc takes this exercise very seriously. As other training modules get taught to any emergency personnel on an ongoing basis, it is important that our own first responders be trained, prepared and extremely competent when a disaster might strike our community, and potentially affect our residents”, shared Paul Benedetto, City of Leduc’s CAO (Chief Administration Officer), who spent a great part of the morning in the EOC.

City of Leduc fire chief George Clancy informed us that “This central command centre (the EOC) ensures that our city resumes normal business as soon as possible, and is able respond to any further emergencies if need be. This requires great coordination between many departments such as Public Works, Facilities, Finance, Communications and many more city operations.”

Salem Woodrow, energetic CP Rail communications officer, was stationed in the EOC that morning with the CP Environmental coordinator, as they would be in the case of a real disaster, to report to CPR officials and to deal with media requests. Iron Horse Response was on site to show how their assistance to a railroad incident frees the local fire department which has an entire city to protect and serve.

A brief glimpse of the high-energy, focused duties of all personnel gathered in the EOC was allowed by officials: however, TV broadcasts of real disasters confirm that media and citizens are never allowed in the epicentre of a municipal emergency such as the one re-enacted by the City of Leduc. Is the City of Leduc ready to deal with a major disaster? It seems that it is.

 

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