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Planning for the worst

Three municipalities and one regional committee have all earned provincial recognition for emergency preparedness

The province is encouraging municipalities to plan for the worst.

Four regions, the municipalities of Cartier, Hanover, Louise and the Southern Emergency Response Committee, were all recognized for their emergency programs during this year’s Manitoba Community Emergency Preparedness Awards. Awards were presented during the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) seminar April 11-12 in Brandon.

The Municipality of Cartier earned a nod for its emergency management plan, public outreach, engagement and information sharing.

The municipality’s website includes a long list of public links including emergency preparedness advice and contact information. Flooding, meanwhile, receives a special nod, with links to flood forecasts, flood preparedness, sandbagging instructions and advice on dealing with the aftermath of flooding. Located just west of Winnipeg, the municipality includes flood risk areas on the banks of the Assiniboine River.

A representative from the Municipality of Cartier receives the 2018 AMM Emergency Preparedness Award from Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton (right).
photo: Alexis Stockford

Stan Toews, reeve for the RM of Hanover, joined officials from the RM of Cartier on stage April 12.

The Municipality of Hanover earned recognition for its own longtime plan, overseen by a citizen’s committee and managed by co-ordinator Dennis Vassart, a position shared by the municipality and nearby City of Steinbach.

“The RM of Hanover maintains a remarkable emergency management program inclusive of several small, interconnected communities and with a robust approach to public information and education,” Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton said when presenting the award.

The RM of Hanover publishes the plan online, alongside flood information echoing the RM of Cartier, financial assistance information and individual emergency preparedness.

The program includes prearranged evacuation locations in the case of an anhydrous or other hazardous material spill, Toews said, while the citizen committee meets regularly and plans are laid for a wide spectrum of possible disasters.

“It’s good for communities to be prepared because you never know what will come your way,” Toews said. “Hopefully, nothing ever does happen.”

The plan has been continually updated since 2005. Last year, the municipality and City of Steinbach added Hanover emergency alerts to the existing Steinbach Live App as one of its improvements, while more upgrades, including updated population information, are planned for this year, according to the online document.

The RM has used mock disasters to test the program, Toews said. The municipality has also tested for disasters crossing municipal lines, joining forces with the nearby Southern Emergency Response Committee, a joint body between the Municipality of Stanley and cities of Winkler and Morden, for larger drills.

The SERC was the third of four emergency management organizations honoured April 12.

“We’ve been working hard for the last 10 years on establishing a robust emergency response system and we’ve focused on a lot of areas,” Chris Kalansky, SERC outgoing emergency co-ordinator, said. “I think one of the things that we’re most proud of is our volunteer base. We have a team of over 20 dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been with us for eight, nine years. They’ve spent a lot of time training for emergency preparedness. We’ve created two operational teams, one to run an emergency operations centre and one to run an emergency reception centre. They’ve put in countless hours training, attending seminars, doing practical setups, and that’s probably the heart of our organization.”

The SERC has become known in its home region for the mock drills, perhaps the largest of which tested response to a tornado touchdown in Morden in 2016. The scenario covered five mock emergency sites and included co-ordination between emergency medical services, police and fire departments from all communities in the region.

AMM president Chris Goerzen (left) and Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton (right) present one of four Emergency Preparedness Awards to RM of Hanover Reeve Stan Toews (centre).
photo: Alexis Stockford

“This program is marked by excellence in staffing and training in the equipping and preparations of emergency operations and evacuee reception centres, investments in communications equipment and communications centres and community engagement,” Wharton said.

The SERC has been a regular in local news media, including its mock disaster drills, installation of permanent communications centres in both Morden and Winkler and the addition of 30 evacuee camp cots last year, something that made headlines when those same cots were put into use the following day during a heavy snowstorm.

“One of the things that we really do appreciate is the fact that we have three municipalities working together,” Kalansky said. “They share resources. We can share personnel. We can share operational procedures, and so through those partnerships we can actually create a better, more robust plan and have better facilities in place. A great example of that is that fact that we have a primary and alternate emergency reception centre both inside the City of Winkler and inside the City of Morden and so one backs up the other.”

The RM of Louise rounded out the award recipients.

“It was started by a fellow councillor back a number of years ago,” Reeve Ken Buchanan said. “She was very professional. She did an excellent job. That was the start of it. Today, we have a very dedicated co-ordinator who is on the RHA and everything is synchronized and kept up to date.”

AMM president Chris Goerzen (left) and Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton (right) present one of four Emergency Preparedness Awards to RM of Louise Reeve Ken Buchanan (centre).
photo: Alexis Stockford

The current plan integrates local fire, hospital, first responders and police services and lays out how those services co-ordinate in the case of emergency.

The AMM singled out the municipality for its “high level of community engagement, comprehensive tabletop training exercises and a comprehensive review and oversight of its emergency management program by council,” according to Wharton.

It’s also a plan that Buchanan devoutly hopes they will never have to use.

The reeve pointed to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which put a sudden, tragic, stress test to emergency services in and around Saskatchewan’s Municipality of Connaught only weeks ago and that Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone later described to CBC as, “unprecedented in our province’s history.”

“That was so traumatic,” Buchanan said. “If you didn’t have (a plan) in place, where would you be?”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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