© Shannon MacDonald
Pt. Nick Campbell, left, and Pt. Lance Bannister, with the 36 Signals Regiment in Halifax, were at Camp Aldershot April 26 for a mock disaster training exercise. The pair were responsible for monitoring the communications network and logging message traffic. – Shannon MacDonald, www.kingscountynews.ca
Two successive storms struck the Atlantic region, leaving disaster in its wake. Raging flood waters damaged roads and high winds toppled trees, cutting off power and leaving thousands stranded in darkness.
This was the scenario the Emergency Management Operations (EMO) and army reserves acted out April 26 at Camp Aldershot.
The annual emergency response scenario is conducted so that these life-saving agencies are not working with each other for the first time during an actual disaster. Similar scenarios were being run simultaneously in the rest of the Maritime provinces.
Andrew Mitton, emergency management planning officer for EMO Nova Scotia, said the increase in extreme weather due to changing climate makes emergency response preparedness more important than ever.
The April 26 scenario showed how communication between the various agencies would work. Emergency response begins at the municipal level and works its way up as local agencies become overwhelmed by the scope of the crisis situation, Mitton explained.
During a briefing, Capt. Dave Parsons and Lt. Tyler Currie laid out the situation, explaining how the joint task force was working to bring the ravaged communities back to a state of normalcy.
In this scenario, two storms caused severe flooding, leading to “significant damage to infrastructure, power distribution and transport infrastructure,” Currie said.
Food and fuel in these communities was beginning to run low and an influenza outbreak had exacerbated recovery efforts. Four evacuation centres had been established in West Advocate, Parrsborro, Springhill and the Bass River area, but food supplies at the evacuation zones were expected to run out within 72 hours.
All four Atlantic provinces declared a state of emergency and a formal request for support from the military was issued.
Under the scenario, Parsons said, two Domestic Response Companies (DRC) were deployed to assess the conditions of a stretch of Route 209 between West Advocate and Parrsborro and a stretch of Highway 2 between Parrsborro and Bass River, which the EMO reported as the most damaged areas. One of the tasks the military was given included clearing routes so that Nova Scotia Power could get in to restore power to affected areas.
Brigadier-General David Henley, deputy commander for the 5th Canadian Division, says the role of the army, especially the reserves, is to support the provincial and federal government in times of emergency.
“The first time we work with them shouldn’t be when the rains are pouring and the flood waters are coming up,” Henley explained.
He added that this scenario provides the military and EMO with an opportunity to practice working with provincial agencies, the RCMP and police to understand how they can assist each other during an emergency.