By Kevin Sabo For the Advance
The snowstorm that hit the East Central Region of Alberta on Oct. 2, 2017, was just the latest of many disasters that have hit our province in recent memory.
The Waterton Lakes fire, the Bindloss fire, the Fort MacMurray fire and the High River flood have all hit our province in the last five years, and while our first responders did the best that they could in trying circumstances, lessons were learned from mistakes made at each event. After the event in our region the director of emergency management for the County of Paintearth, Todd Pawsey, reached out to his counterparts in the area and brought together elected officials, administrators, and first responders last November to come up with ways to improve disaster management.
Several challenges were identified in a “worst-case-scenario” exercise, and the ultimate verdict was “we got lucky,” according to Pawsey. Despite the power being off for over 60 hours in some areas of the East Central region, and many motorists being stranded on the highways, there were no fatalities or injuries reported during the Oct. 2 storm.
During the debrief of this storm, several strengths and weaknesses in the emergency management system in place were identified. The largest of the strengths identified were the first responders willingness to adapt to conditions, such as using snow-mobiles to reach stranded motorists on impassable roads, the community stepping up and caring for those stranded, and emergency management being seen as a regional emergency responsibility, not just a municipal level issue.
Unfortunately, the strengths are matched by the lessons learned from both the storm on Oct. 2 and the follow up debrief in November. Some of the main lessons learned were a need for a full-scale exercise to stress test the systems in place and a need to identify and prepare reception centres not in the seniors lodges or the hospital, as those services need to remain dedicated to the individuals already receiving care, as well as improved coordination of communication across the region.
After the debriefing in November, it became clear to all involved that there were many lessons to be learned from the storm, and all the delegates returned to their home communities and councils, to begin the process of correcting the weaknesses that had been identified.
It has been eight months since the region was assaulted by the storm, and many of the stakeholders that participated in the session back in November re-convened on May 31,2018, to review the progress that has been made.