June crisis debriefing with SAO Brenda Black

June crisis debriefing with SAO Brenda Black
Brenda Black.Photo by Kyle Gennings.

During the sweltering, stale days of June, Fort Smith SAO Brenda Black spent her much of her days indoors attending meetings, but the hot, dry conditions outside never left her mind.

At the time, fire was cutting through most of northeastern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan, carving its way closer to the southern NWT.

As a co-leader, along with the mayor, of the town’s emergency response team, Black spent those days helping to make decisions that could, if conditions became dire, save her new home, or leave it in ashes.

Thankfully for Black, the town and its residents, nature proved merciful. Looking back, Black says she would not have handled the situation any other way.

“We had extreme conditions for a long time, but I honestly feel that the whole process went well,” she said. “We were all quite engaged in the situation.”

Daily update meetings helped Black and the emergency response team ascertain the danger level and develop precautionary measures accordingly.

“The meetings consisted of a weather update, followed by status updates on where the fires were, what they were doing, what had improved and what hadn’t,” she said. “It was an opportunity for information to be exchanged from all of the parties.”

To ensure residents remained constantly informed, Black and her co-workers at town hall made as much information available as possible, as readily as possible.

“It was important to get the information out regularly, we had current messages on the phone and the website that updated daily,” she said. “We had messages on the board outside of town hall and we had an e-mail contact list that we made good use of.”

As a result, Black feels the town would have been well prepared had fires reached Fort Smith.

“I don’t think we could have been any better prepared because we had four water bombers on hand and an extra fire truck as well,” said Black. “We had taken the actions recommended by Al Roach and the situation was being monitored 24/7. We would have had as much notice as anybody could have had if things had gotten any worse.”

With lessons from those tense days still fresh in her mind, Black feels there was only one thing that could have been improved upon.

“I would have held fewer meetings, when things were the status quo,” she said. “I think it might have been easier to say, ‘We’ll meet every second day if nothing is critical,’ but that is the only thing and it is a pretty minor detail.”

For Black, June was a month spent stressing over details and decisions that could mean life or death should the worst come to pass, but it also showed the relatively new member of the community the steel of its people.

“I got the sense that there are people in the community who care a lot about the community,” she said. “The people really care and they went out of their way to help out, everyone did.”

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