Ponoka town and county planners

Preparing for emergencies

Ponoka County hosted an emergency preparedness training event last week for about 40 participants from different organizations.

Emergency preparedness took centre stage last week during a table top exercise aimed at educating Ponoka first responders and agencies needed to take action.

The training event was hosted by Ponoka County and brought about 40 people from different organizations to manage a mock state of emergency. The table top is intended to get first responders and aid agencies thinking about the steps that will need to be taken to deal with an emergency situation.

“This is the perfect environment for making mistakes,” explained consultant and facilitator Ken Kendall at the onset of the exercise.

The scene unfolds with a transport truck with dangerous goods colliding with a Chinese tour bus near a school. While it may seem like an extreme situation, Kendall pointed out that stranger things have happened. As the scene unfolded Kendall slowly escalated the scenario to get attendees to think about how to deal with adrenaline and how to respond.

In another room first responders including RCMP, firefighters, peace officers and AHS discussed how to handle the scene with consultant Bruce Mackenzie guiding them through the steps.

Alberta is no stranger to states of emergency. From the 2013 floods to last year’s wildfire in Fort McMurray, these events highlight the need to be ready, explained Kendall.

Mackenzie said the purpose of the exercise is not to test participants but to test the emergency planning system. “If you want somebody to learn it has to be a positive learning environment for them.”

An emergency situation like this also highlighted the support needed from different agencies. This type of mutual aid is something fire departments have had to do for many years, explained Kendall. “Municipalities are just now coming around to that type of thinking.”

One of the challenges municipalities face is a growing list of budgetary needs and priorities, said Kendall, and budgeting for emergency planning is not always on the forefront. However, from a cost standpoint, emergency planning is not necessarily a big budget item.

Part of the table top exercise included use of the town and county’s regional emergency plan, which was paid for by the province. “What’s nice there is the province creates the opportunity.”

“Where it’s incumbent on the municipalities is to maintain the system after it’s been created,” said Kendall, adding that maintenance is not cost prohibitive.

While it may seem far fetched that a state of emergency could occur right in the Ponoka area, it was just last summer that the town saw a tornado touch down during the busiest time of the year, Ponoka Stampede. Emergency preparedness is vital to ensuring a smooth transition.

For Mackenzie, emergency preparedness can start at home with what he called 72-hour personal preparedness. He suggests having a plan for food, clothes, pets and even personal drug prescriptions is all part of that process.

The agencies that attended included town and county of Ponoka administration and councillors, members of the Ponoka County East and West District Fire Departments, FCSS for Ponoka and Rimbey, RCMP, members of the Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit, Ponoka Victim Services, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, AHS and Red Cross.

Ponoka FCSS is hosting an Incident Command System 100 course free coming up May 25. The course is an introduction to managing emergency incidents. To register call Ponoka FCSS at 403-783-4462. The agency is also handing out emergency preparedness bags next week during Emergency Preparedness Week May 7 to 13.

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