By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Emergency management was the topic of discussion during a presentation by Field Officer Mark Murphy from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency at a Town of Coaldale council meeting held Nov. 9.
Murphy visited council to share what a council’s responsibilities are before, during and after an emergency. Murphy works with 47 communities in southern Alberta and his role is to provide assistance, guidance and some templates and he also brings a little bit of grant money.
“I twist arms every once in a while and I poke, so communities will be involved in an emergency management program in their community,” said Murphy.
“Unfortunately, I can’t do the program for you. However, I have lots of advice and lots of guidance to help you build your program,” Murphy added, during his presentation to council.
Murphy began by bringing up a scenario of what if a train derailment disaster happened in the Town of Coaldale?
“A lot of places say it’s never going to happen here. There are events happening around you. You had some flooding here the last couple of years. You are aware of some things that can happen. The event will happen,” he noted to council.
Another thing Murphy hears a lot of times is — “we’re too busy to work on it right now, we’ll figure it out when it’s happening.”
“That’s not the best time to do things because in emergency management we’re trying to save lives, protect property, the environment and the economy.”
Communities, according to Murphy, need to take the time to prepare, get together, build a proper plan and do exercises and staff training.
“When it does happen you’ll have a lot more pieces in place and you’ll be able to roll with the punches and be able to adjust to some of the things that will happen during an event,” he explained.
Coaldale has emergencies all the time, Murphy said. “A lot of these events are taken care of by your first-responders — police, fire and ambulance. Sometimes, we don’t even hear about it. They do a great job.”
Disasters though, Murphy said, are wide-spread and there can be serious harm to residents and a lot of damage to property in a community.
“When we talk about disasters, it’s not just your own internal staff that would be coming to help police, fire and ambulance. It’s a lot of outsiders coming in. Everybody’s going to come here to help and these are outside organizations, as well as your own citizens. They’re all going to jump up and say, ‘we’re going to help.’” That, causes an issue in itself, he added.
People will not be prepared and will not know what to do, Murphy said, and this is why a town should have an emergency management program in place prior to an event.
In the Town of Coaldale, Murphy said, ideally every family would know the hazards in the town and would have a family emergency plan and a 72-hour kit.
“That’s in a perfect world. I would suggest probably maybe a quarter of your citizens have that. They will be turning to the Town of Coaldale for some assistance,” said Murphy.
If the town isn’t able to assist, Murphy noted, the province would get involved and then onto the federal government, if need be.
In the preparation and mitigation phase, Murphy said, Coaldale should conduct a hazard impact risk assessment — What are the hazards? What is the impact? What can the town do to mitigate these hazards?
“Obviously, the rail line, you’re not going to be able to pick it up and move it in the next couple of days. It’s going to be there for probably another 100 years. What can we do, as an example, to mitigate the potential danger of a trail derailment? So, things like that,” he said.
Building a municipal emergency plan, Murphy noted, is the phase a town will spend most of their time on, which will include training staff and volunteers.
“Ideally, a town of this size, should be doing a training exercise, even a tabletop, probably once a year. You can do other exercises but by doing it once a year you’re able to keep everything fresh in peoples’ minds. Especially the staff.” Recovery is also part of the plan.
Coaldale council also learned about the process of declaring a state of emergency in an event.
“If there was an event ongoing, the first-responders would probably turn to your director of emergency management or to your Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and say, ‘we need the powers of a state of a local emergency.’ The only way the town has access to those powers is to declare a state of local emergency,” said Murphy.
A state of local emergency can be declared for a condition that exists or may exist, Murphy explained.
“If there was a wildfire in Lethbridge County coming towards the town, the emergency does not exist in the town but it may exist into the town. You can declare a state of local emergency to order people to evacuate,” he added.
The power to declare a state of emergency can be delegated to the mayor or deputy mayor or two members of council, according to Murphy. “Technically, to declare a local state of emergency, you must do it by council resolution, which would mean you would have to have a quorum of council. However, by having an emergency management bylaw in place, you could delegate that authority,” he said.
With declaring a local state of emergency, a municipality has quite extensive powers during the event.
“The one first-responders would want to use the most would be to enforce an evacuation because we’re trying to save lives,” he said.