Disaster training urged

Clearwater County plans to boost disaster training and make communications improvements in line with the recommendations of a report on the response to a severe windstorm that ripped through Nordegg in August.

Clearwater County plans to boost disaster training and make communications improvements in line with the recommendations of a report on the response to a severe windstorm that ripped through Nordegg in August.

“We feel that things went well,” said Mike Haugen, the county’s community and protective services manager. “We also feel they could have gone better.”

Thousands of trees were toppled and power lines downed when winds whipped through Nordegg on Sunday night on the August long weekend. Besides damage to homes and vehicles, emergency responders had to contend with a propane leak caused when a tree fell on to a group of propane tanks.

The leak prompted the evacuation of about 70 residents to the Centre for Outdoor Education. Several people in the area were taken to hospital by ambulance and there were many other walk-in patients.

As a follow-up to the incident, a 22-page Lessons Learned report was prepared for county council and released earlier this month.

The difficulties of evacuating residents on short notice was highlighted by the storm. In response, the county plans to develop improved tracking forms to gather more information from evacuees, such as cellphone numbers, in a simple format.

“What it’s doing is developing the forms that will make the gathering of that information a lot more efficient so we’re not sacrificing time getting it,” Haugen said.

Also, there were complaints by some residents that they had not been notified of the evacuation. “We know in some cases that was a weakness.”

The report notes that the county had already embarked on a review and update of its evacuation procedures before the windstorm. “With further development and training, more efficient and effective evacuations will be facilitated,” says the report.

The report commends the volunteer emergency responders who left their own homes at a time of emergency to help others.

“One of the things that tends to be forgotten is that responders to a lot of events like this are also victims,” said Haugen. “We had responders whose houses or vehicles were damaged or totalled in the storm and they chose to ignore that and go out and perform their duties as fire and ambulance crews.

“That was definitely a strength.”

Emergency responders also effectively applied the county’s disaster plans, he said.

The various emergency responders did a good job in setting up road blocks and tracking the propane plume to protect residents. Communication between the various emergency services responding to the windstorm was also good.

A number of recommendations have been made, largely aimed at encouraging additional training in communications and the incident command system used to respond to emergencies. Additional mock disasters and table top exercises are also recommended.

Since there is a large amount of propane at Nordegg, it is recommended that responders have advanced training in dangerous goods. It is also recommended the public be educated on how the province responds to emergencies and what people should do themselves in the event of an incident.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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