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Mock disaster tests regional emergency response

The Grande Prairie region is now better prepared for a large-scale emergency. Over the past three days, a mock emergency scenario has been run out of the County of Grande Prairie.

“These exercises are really important because it’s an opportunity to practice and go through the what-ifs,” says exercise lead Jennifer Wood. “In order to be successful in responding to something, we have to have those opportunities to walk through it.”

County Regional Fire Service fire chief Trevor Grant explains they worked through a real-time exercise that involved a large wildfire. It “sparked” in the Grande Prairie Forest Protection Area Monday afternoon, and “spread” through rural communities towards the city.

“There’s evacuations happening all across the county, city, Village of Hythe, Beaverlodge, Grovedale, and MD of Greenview. It’s a fairly large-scale event.”

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The scenario teamed up the province of Alberta and the Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership with emergency groups, industry and other municipalities from across northwestern Alberta. GPREP is made up of the city, county, Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Wembley, and Hythe, as well as partners like Alberta Health Services and the RCMP.

Grant says it’s an opportunity for them to practice and get to know the other agencies in the event they’ll be needed for a real life response.

“It’s definitely beneficial for all the organizations and the folks to get together to build a rapport, but also exercise the plans and the procedures that we currently have in place to make sure that they’d operate smoothly in the event of a large-scale event.”

Along with simulated evacuations, the exercise also involved highway closures, as well as using social media and the Alberta Emergency Alert system to communicate information with the public. Wood, who is the GPREP program coordinator, says making sure what’s going out is correct and timely is key in an emergency.

“Always it’s a challenge in a disaster situation to make sure that information is getting to all the right people, because when a disaster is occurring, there’s initially all sorts of information; it’s not all truth – some of it’s truth, some of it’s not – so it’s a challenge to work through that.”

Following the exercise, officials will debrief and identify any areas of response that could be worked on. Grant says residents should feel confident that the GPREP region is prepared for major emergencies.

“We do exercise and we do have a great relationship between all of the municipalities that are a part of GPREP, and I think it’s definitely an attest to our region to have something like this already in place in the event of a large-scale emergency.”

The province activated its Provincial Emergency Operations Centre for the operation. While the scenario has wrapped up, its work will continue until March 2nd.

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