By the time you see the smoke pillowing in the distance beyond Sulphur Mountain, a fire is already raging, fuelled by high winds and dry, hot temperatures, and moving toward town. The community is full of residents and visitors enjoying the sunny August long weekend, unaware of an emergency that could blow into town.
That was the scenario of a tactical emergency tabletop exercise conducted by the Town of Banff Fire Department and Parks Canada last month. Emergency management personnel from the Town of Banff, Parks Canada, Province of Alberta, RCMP, EMS, and representatives from the Rimrock Resort Hotel and Brewster Canada tackled response times, communication, evacuation procedures, and transportation in the exercise, and created interagency organizational charts.
With March 1 the start of wildfire season in Alberta, it was a timely exercise for local emergency management personnel.
“Tabletop emergency exercises ensure responders are well-prepared and on the scene as quickly as possible,” said Fire Chief Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of protective services. “A wildfire near the townsite is a very real possibility, so we want to test our plans, and ourselves, on how well the situation would be managed from a tactical perspective. It’s very valuable to have all our partners in one room going over these plans and putting them into action.”
Running through table top exercises helps all of our partners review their emergency management plans, he added, and deal with realistic scenarios and identify areas for improvement.
In the case of wildfire, if the fire hazard is extreme, Parks Canada fire management team is on standby with personnel and rotary wing aircraft, and a duty crew of six Banff firefighters is on call. The agencies are prepared for the worst, so if disaster strikes, they can jump into action using well-practised emergency plans to deal with the growing fire. Getting people out of harm’s way is the Town’s top priority.
The Town of Banff’s emergency management plan is a comprehensive document that can be put into action during any natural or manmade disaster. It outlines a command structure, emergency social services, evacuation procedures and more to deal with any situation that may impact residents and visitors. The Town of Banff regularly reviews its plan and holds a tabletop exercise at least once a year, and a full mock emergency exercise every five years to ensure readiness if a disaster strikes. Past scenarios have focused on train derailments and multiple vehicle collisions, infectious disease outbreaks as well as different wildfire situations.
“We will continue to work with our partners at Parks Canada and the Province to increase our level of preparedness and cooperation. You can never predict everything that might happen, but it’s a good practice to regularly review these plans and everyone’s roles and responsibilities during an emergency situation,” Adamo said.
A full mock emergency exercise is planned for May. The day-long interagency exercise will focus on a different scenario and will coincide with the 2017 Disaster Forum held annually at the Banff Centre.