Fort Smith gets refresher on emergency plan

Fort Smith gets refresher on emergency plan
Jim Hood, second from left, orchestrates a simulated emergency operations centre in the Fort Smith town office last week.Photo: Maria Church.

Come what may – be it a forest fire, flood or zombie apocalypse – the Town of Fort Smith is feeling prepared after a simulated emergency exercise last week revamped its official Emergency Preparedness Guide.

The exercise was facilitated by the department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) in response to a request from the town in April. The fact that it took place days after the threat from an out of control wildfire died down in the community is a fluke, according to town SAO Jim Hood.

“It is just coincidence that it happens to be this week. It’s been in the works for a while,” Hood said after the two-day exercise wrapped up Thursday.

The exercise was led by MACA’s Ivan Russell, who took the group responsible for the town’s emergency plan, including the mayor, SAO, Public Works, Public Health and Environment and Natural Resources, through the process of responding to an emergency.

While day one was a refresher on the town’s current emergency guide, day two included a tabletop exercise that simulated an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in the town office.

Much of the exercise was dedicated to introducing the Incident Command System, a standardized management system accepted across Canada.

“We are going to move towards that, but this is our first real exposure to it, our first real review of it as far as doing it for our own EOC,” Hood said.

The town updates its emergency plan on a yearly basis, Hood said, but having the exercise was a useful opportunity to interact with all players involved in the plan.

“I think now that we’ve brought the group together and people are more familiar with each other, I feel better,” he said. “If we had to evacuate, if we had to act on the threat, I wouldn’t say that we are better prepared, because we were prepared before, but I think that the process would work a lot more smoothly.”

Should the town activate its EOC, Hood would take on the role of incident commander, the head of all emergency operations. With the help of information from all players, including MACA and Wood Buffalo National Park, he would make calls on the evacuation plan.

“If the highway is going to be cut off or if there is smoke in the community that will affect air travel, all of that information plays in, so we develop our plan from there. There’s no certain answer as far as saying we are always going to go by air or we are always going to go by road. It just depends on the situation,” Hood said.

Fort Smith Mayor Brad Brake said he was happy with the exercise and emphasized that the town has had an up-to-date emergency plan in place for years, complete with “every little detail” from the moment they are notified of an incident, to evacuation and eventual return to the community.

“We’re set up here. We know what’s going on,” Brake said.

MACA currently offers emergency response planning and tabletop exercise workshops to all communities in the NWT on a request basis.

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