Edson, Yellowhead County and ESRD Wildfire Emergency Exercise

On April 11, 2013 the municipalities of Yellowhead County and the Town of Edson partnered with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) to see how each organization’s Emergency Operations Centre would operate in a multi-organizational, large-scale emergency. The catastrophic 2011 wildfire season prompted the three organizations to initiate the development and implementation of a Wildfire Emergency Simulation Exercise for the Edson area. The mock exercise was based on two computer simulated wildfires impacting the Town of Edson and some of the surrounding residential, industrial, and recreational areas in Yellowhead County.

“We were very pleased with the results of this exercise,” acknowledges Cory Chegwyn, Yellowhead County Fire Chief, “This type of mock exercise gives everyone involved a better understanding of the skills and procedures needed to deal with an emergency of this scale. The importance of planning and practicing for any type of emergency situation cannot be stressed enough."

The four hour exercise included 79 participants with backgrounds ranging from emergency services to municipal planning and development. During the exercise there were three separate Emergency Operations Centres set up, as well as an Incident Command Post which simulated the front-line emergency responders that would be on-scene in a real emergency. In addition to the active participants there were also several observers from local industry, neighbouring communities and other government agencies.

The exercise focused on interagency mandates, communication, and public and emergency responder safety. This type of exercise provided an opportunity for members from the various agencies to perform the tasks that would be expected of them in a real emergency and to see how they would work together in the event of a real emergency of this magnitude.

“Opportunities to participate in an exercise of this magnitude don’t often happen,” says Al Schram, Edson Fire Chief. “It was great to see all the agencies work together and learn from this experience”

The exercise included two large wildfires causing severe smoke issues for transportation routes, residential areas, the hospital and the airport, as well as potential fire damage to residential and industrial property both in the town and the surrounding area. The teams had to deal with all the potential dangers and anticipate how they would need to respond to these various situations; including fire suppression and the evacuation of residents affected by the incident. Mock exercises of this type ensure that lessons learned from past wildfire emergencies are incorporated into future operational planning.

“Having two simultaneous wildfires in the exercise, something that is a very possible scenario in the real world, allowed for the exercise planners to throw a few curve-balls at the participants,” points out Kevin Freehill, Wildfire Prevention Officer, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, “keeping all the participants on their toes from beginning to end.”

There were three levels of objectives for this exercise. The first was safety of the general public and emergency responders. The second objective of the exercise was to determine how the different agencies would work together on joint objectives between the four separate locations; including communications and coordination of resources, systems, and procedures. The third objective looked specifically at how each organization dealt with their specific duties they would be responsible for in this type of emergency.

The exercise was coordinated by the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the Town of Edson and Yellowhead County and was planned by Al Schram - Fire Chief, Town of Edson; Cory Chegwyn - Fire Chief, Yellowhead County; and Kevin Freehill - Wildfire Prevention Officer, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.