If a tornado—or any other disaster for that matter—were to cause devastation in Rainy River District, would municipalities be ready to deal with the emergency?
Let’s hope so.
Councillors, reeves, and other representatives from Rainy River, Lake of the Woods, Dawson, Morley, Chapple, Emo, La Vallee, and Alberton tested their communities’ emergency plans in a control group training session last Tuesday evening (May 16) at the Emo-La Vallee Arena.
The meeting was facilitated by former Fort Frances Fire Chief Steve Richardson, who agreed to conduct the training as his final duty before heading to southern Ontario to take a new position.
Richardson has facilitated the training sessions, which are required annually under the Emergency Management Act, for several years now. But he decided to make his final one a little different.
Instead of having a district-wide emergency, each municipality had its own circumstances to work with—and couldn’t rely on the other communities for assistance.
So he chose to use a tornado scenario, instead of the ice storm they had used in the past.
“It’s more realistic that a tornado would touch down in certain areas and not devastate the whole district,” Richardson noted in the introduction to the evening’s session.
Some communities experienced structural damage, gas leaks, train derailments, and fatalities.
Richardson said the municipalities had to decide whether to declare a state of emergency, and if the state of emergency would be for the entire community or just the effected area.
“We’re testing the plan—not the people,” he stressed. “We’ll use role play. That way, we’ll get the most out if it.
“And have fun with it,” he added.
As each group got to work, Richardson and other local emergency resource people circulated throughout the room offering information and advice.
“They have to prioritize and make sure they have their resources,” he explained. “Do they have all the contacts? Who else do they need?”
Richardson also said each municipality is responsible for ensuring people at the site have all the resources—and that all day-to-day service not affected continue as normal.
“If they are going to require more resources, they can declare a state of emergency and bring in more help,” he indicated.
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Once each group had assessed the circumstances and developed a suitable plan of action to handle the emergency, they had to write a media release to inform the public about what had occurred.
“In three years we never really touched on the media,” Richardson noted. “We talked about it and talked about it, but never put it into practice.”
He added there have been incidents in the past which triggered the attention of larger media, such as television stations from Winnipeg.
“If it’s big enough, there will be mics and TV cameras to deal with,” Richardson stressed, saying he wants to see if the municipalities will give all the facts.
Each media release was supposed to contain information about what is being done for the people, what the public should or should not do, and where more information can be obtained.
The emergency spokesperson from each municipality presented the media release to two members of the local media, who then asked questions to try to get more information out of them.
Richardson said afterwards the activity went over well and that the municipalities did a great job.
“I was really happy with the way it went,” he enthused. “The municipalities got a lot out of it. Some identified areas where their plans needed some more work, but that’s the purpose of the exercises.”
Before the session continued with emergency recovery issues, the municipalities presented Richardson with gifts of thanks for all of his hard work and dedication.
Coffee and cake also was served.
Another emergency control group training session will not be required by district municipalities until next year.