Q&A with Brian Ballard, Regional Emergency Manager, Central Peace Regional Emergency Management

In 2012, the five municipalities (G5) in the Central Peace Region – Birch Hills County, MD 133 of Spirit River, Saddle Hills County, Town of Spirit River and Village of Rycroft – formed a partnership for emergency management (formerly known as Disaster Services).

The partnership was authorized by a Ministerial Order that allows the five municipalities the ability to delegate the authorities and responsibilities to the joint committee of the G5. This program takes advantage of the combined strength and resources of the partners and eliminates competition for resources during an emergency.

CP-REM is authorized to declare a single State of Local Emergency which affects multiple municipalities.

Q: Who are CP-REM’s key players?
A: On the committee, there are two council members from each of the five municipalities and then the five Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) are the directors of Emergency Management for their respective municipality. It’s written into our emergency management bylaws that as soon as they are appointed as CAO, they’re automatically the director. Then, several of the G5 have appointed dems, such as Dion Hynes with Birch Hills County, Ron Pelensky and myself with Saddle Hills County and Brent Potter with the town of Spirit River.

There is also Emergency Social Services (ESS), which started out with members-at-large and Victims Services (VS) with the manager of VS and the alternate being the manager of ESS. Since then, FCSS was also formed and became a part of ESS. In fact, as FCSS has grown the coordinator has become more and more active in ESS.

What steps has CP-REM taken to prepare for a regional disaster?
Most recently in 2016/2017, we created a new plan, then rolled it out and presented it to all the stakeholder groups. Every two years, we’ve been doing a large scale full activation exercise, similar to the one we just did in Birch Hills County on April 20. We’re also opening another Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Spirit River, at the Brownlee Building located behind the MD of Spirit River office. As a part of that, we started with a tabletop discussion exercise, which is the first step in the progression of emergency exercises that will help the staff from that area get prepared. Staff from any of the five municipalities can participate in any exercises, but in the smaller offices it’s hard to get the people able to come.

How beneficial was the Regional Emergency Exercise performed on April 20 to resolving the recent overland flooding?
Well, several of the people who were involved in the flood incident had just come through the exercise in Birch Hills County. They said it was very valuable in having that opportunity to practice two days before the flood.

What were the successes and lessons learned from the disaster?
One of the lessons learned was the need for more training for people who hadn’t had any yet. Also, there were a lot of people who were not on council or part of the organization when we had done orientation sessions, so it also pointed out that there’s a need to some more.

A success was how even though there were a lot of people who had never worked together before came together and it worked really well. Everyone was really impressed with how everyone just pulled together and helped each other do whatever needed to be done.

Are there resources and mutual aid agreements in place?
Yes, we have mutual aid agreements between Fairview, Smokey River and GPREP (Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership).

There’s also the northwest resource sharing agreement that was done about 2 years ago, which allows for resources – whether it be personnel or equipment – to be taken from wherever they are in northwestern Alberta to where the emergency is happening. It also comes with a delegation of authority form that means, for example, I could call for resources, say, from High Level and have somebody come in and put them in perhaps a logistics position and give them an authorized spending limit. The other thing that goes along with that is kind of the next step under that agreement that is the Northwest Incident Management (NIM) team, which are folks like me and Diahann (Potrebenko, Health & Safety Coordinator for Saddle Hills County), who have some training and skills from all over northwestern Alberta who have agreed to be a part of this team. They can come in and support operations at the EOC to relieve those who have been working for the last 24 to 48 hours and are starting to burn out. Aside from being well trained, the other advantage is that they’re not worrying about their home or family and friends because they’re from outside the area. It allows our people to go home and make sure everything is all right.

In closing, what would you like to add that would be important for the readers to know if another disaster strikes?
Well, I really believe the program is a very good thing for the G5 because it provides a level of capacity that individually we would not have. We’ve made some good progress and we still have lots of work to do, probably always will, but compared to 5 years ago within the Central Peace and northwestern Alberta, there’s been huge improvement in capacity. I’m really seeing right across the province where response is a lot more organized and coordinated as everyone gets on the same system and speaks the same language.

However, it’s important for residents to do their own preparedness assessment of their home to make sure they’re equipped to look after themselves for the first 72 hours because in reality it may take that long for us to get to them to see what their needs are – unless, of course, they’re being evacuated. The three steps to Personal Emergency Preparedness are:

  • Know the risks
  • Make a plan
  • Build a kit

Preparedness starts at the personal level, then the region, then its community, then the province and then, finally, federal. Basically, once the province reaches a certain limit on disaster recovery, the feds’ timing kicks in.