By Kevin Sabo For the Advance
By the very definition a natural disaster is a sudden and threatening act of nature with the potential for great loss of life and property damage.
Alberta has not been immune to natural disasters in the last decade. From the relatively minor hail storm in the Calgary area in 2012 which caused over $500 Million worth of damage, to the rather more significant floods in Calgary the following year and then the Fort MacMurray forest fire that razed several neighborhoods of the city and was not extinguished for over a year, no corner of the province has been spared in the last decade.
“Are we ready?” is a question that has been asked by Director of Emergency Management, Todd Pawsey, and it is a question he is looking to find an answer too, especially since the region of Paintearth County was rocked by a major snowfall on Oct. 2, 2017, well before the snowfall season in Alberta typically starts. After the snowfall, due to the scope of the weather event, he pulled together elected officials, municipal administrators, and emergency services personnel to review what happened, and what can be done better.
Eight months later, the group was drawn together again to review the problems and talk about any solutions that have been found. As the group took turns reporting on progress made, the feeling in the room was positive.
The biggest three issues that were identified all lead back to one big one: Power. When the storm hit last October, some areas of the county were without power for over 60 hours. The loss of power attributed to a communication breakdown as cell phone and radio towers exhausted their back-up power supplies. The loss of power also shut down the ability of emergency vehicles to get the fuel they need to operate, as the fuel station pumps and point of sale equipment are all electrically driven.
“It is key to get a fuel supply,” was the comment made by Lorne Dewart, the Operations Manager of East Central Ambulance Association. “No fuel, we don’t move.” The manager of the Co-Op gas bar out at the crossroads of highways 36 and 12 is working on getting an emergency generator for their location, due to their remote location. ECAA and the county have both thrown their support behind the manager and have drafted letters to pressure the Co-Op head office to agree to the generator.
The county yard just west of town is also being wired for a generator in order to keep them operating in the case of a prolonged power outage, as is the Paintearth Lodge in Castor. Several other public buildings across the region are also being wired with the switching gear need to connect a portable generator for any prolonged outages.
As for communications, the Alberta transport office in Hanna which was completely cut off from their resources in the October 2 blizzard due to communications failure, has purchased a satellite phone to communicate with their head office in Edmonton, and communications upgrades are being made across the region and at the East Central 911 callcenter in Wainright.