File Photo.

Eckville agency practices emergency preparedness

The Eckville Emergency Management Agency met Feb. 3 for the yearly tabletop exercise

The Eckville Emergency Management Agency is working to keep the Town and its residents safe in the case of emergency.

The agency is composed of a director of emergency management (DEM), three deputy DEMs, members of council, Town staff and volunteers, as well as field officers from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) and a regional coordinator.

“There’s an extensive background in emergency management, for not just myself, but for others as well,” said Stephanie Hawkins, DEM for the Town of Eckville, in a phone interview.

Hawkins works a full-time job in emergency management in industry, is finishing up a master’s degree in emergency management, and has experience as an industrial firefighter and an municipal firefighter.

She explained a lot of the members also have the same kind of background or training, which is what drew them to the agency.

“Not only just the staff and council, but a lot of the volunteers, whether they were previous firefighters, retired firefighters, police service, FCSS, social services is a huge part of emergency management,” explained Hawkins.

Emergency management is a “constant organization of resources and responsibilities for dealing with humanitarian aspects of emergencies.”

This, according to Hawkins, includes four stages: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

The preparedness stage was practiced on Feb. 3 when the agency met for the yearly tabletop exercise.

A tabletop exercise is a low cost method used for evaluating emergency plans, response and roles in a stress free environment, said Hawkins.

At the exercise on Feb. 3 the agency sat around a table and talked through a HAZMAT scenario.

Each year there is a risk assessment done where the agency looks at what the greatest risks are. For Eckville, a HAZMAT incident was on the list due to the number of tractor trailers to go through town.

The exercise portrayed a scenario where a tractor trailer carrying liquid acetone crashed and was leaking the fluid from the back. The participants then worked together to work through the stages of the incident from who needs to be notified to activating the Emergency Operation Centre and then recovery.

Next in the evaluation phase it will be determined what was lacking in the exercise and which areas need improvement and are added to the emergency plan.

Hawkins says the emergency plan will be updated at the quarterly meeting in April.

In addition to the tabletop exercise there is also a functional exercise done every four years and AEMA hosts a full scale exercise fairly regularly.

A functional exercise sees areas such as operations and logistics put boots on the ground in the Emergency Operation Centre, but firetrucks, for example, would not be out in the field.

On the other hand, a full scale exercise would have the centre going through the motions as well as response staff out in the field as if they were on the scene of a real incident.

Hawkins says the Lacombe Region is looking to do a full scale exercise in the future, although nothing has been set as of now.

Training for the agency members is provided by AEMA at no cost to the Town, but it can be time consuming as the courses range from half-day to three days long.

Local Authority Legislation has made the training more standardized based on position starting at the DEMs and deputies then flowing down.

“What we do foresee challenges with is it’s a largely volunteer group,” said Hawkins of getting the members trained, adding the Town staff and councillors are easier as they can be trained on Town time.

“There’s definitely challenges there because people have jobs and people work and these courses are usually held Monday to Friday.”

The training the members receive is part of a command and control structure used by all municipalities and provinces across the country so additional support can be brought in if necessary.

At the quarterly meetings Hawkins says they assure the agency is meeting all Local Authority Legislation guidelines as well as the local Town of Eckville emergency management bylaw.

Emergency Preparedness

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