Hope for the best, plan for the worst

By Geoff Lee

September 20, 2017 12:12 PM

Former RCMP Inspector Mark Hancock, with the Wood Buffalo Detachment, was a keynote speaker at the Bordering on Disaster Conference held at the Lloydminster Stockade Convention Centre on Sept. 19. Hancock was the incident commander during the evacuation of Fort Mac in the wake of the 2016 wildfires. Today, Hancock is superintendent and assistant district commander of the Eastern Alberta District in St. Paul. About 200 people attended the event. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

The Bordering on Disaster Conference was all about how communities like Lloydminster can prepare and react to every imaginable type of 911 emergency.
More than 200 people attended the third annual event at the Lloydminster Stockade Convention Centre on Sept. 19, with keynote speakers and breakout sessions on case studies on the schedule.
There were lessons to be learned from responders to tragedies ranging from the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newton Connecticut, and the Hub Mall shooting at the University of Alberta, to the epic flooding in Calgary and High River.
Setting the tone to be prepared was a keynote presentation on the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation and response in 2016, by RCMP inspector Mark Hancock, who was the incident commander at the Wood Buffalo Detachment at the time.
“We were able to evacuate over 88,000 people successfully, 80,000 in five and a half hours as a team, a lot of key stakeholders throughout the whole incident—too many to name right now, but it was a collaborative effort,” he said, summarizing his presentation highlights.
He said they did all that successfully with only one four-lane highway out.
“It’s one of the largest natural disasters in Canadian history, so lessons learned, there’s several,” said Hancock, who touched on a few key points.
“I think lots of planning, mock exercises, table top exercises, thinking about your strategy if this happens in a community, who’s going to take the role with your organization, just planning for the worst, being proactive.”
He said being proactive requires practice, lots of discussions, and putting the right people in the right roles to deal with these situations.
Hancock goes all over the country encouraging other municipalities to take similar steps.
“I enjoy doing it because I think it’s important to bring the message forward to communicate how to better prepare to deal with these situations,” he said.
Hancock called the Fort Mac wildfires a “monumental disaster” that makes him very proud of the response from operations centres at the onset.
He had the ear of Lloydminster Fire Department chief, Jordan Newton, who said the city learned a lot of lessons from Hancock’s presentation.
“That’s how we learn about disasters and how to better prepare municipalities, is by learning unfortunately from others,” he said.
Newton assured Lloydminster residents the city is continually working on ways to be better prepared with emergency planning.
“The city does have emergency plans in place for any kind of man-made disaster, whether it be technological, as well as any natural disaster that could come to our city,” he said.
He speculated there could be fires that are majorly disruptive, as well as hazardous materials events affecting our city.
“There is a plan in place to project our residents, and to care for them,” he said.
The conference breakout sessions covered more on the Fort McMurray response, as well as sensitive issues like school security since a gunman shot and killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
The topics also included a study on how social dynamics affected the response of Albertans to the 2013 floods.
Newton says following the conference, the fire department will go through their plans again.
“For the whole conference, all the attendees will be able to take something back, whether it be to their municipalities, rural municipalities or corporations, and better improve their emergency plans,” he said.
The conference included opening remarks from Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers, and was presented in partnership with Husky Energy and ATCO with support from a variety of other sponsors.

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