DISASTER-READY EXERCISE IN HAWKESBURY
If a tornado ever whirls through Hawkesbury like it did through Dunrobin and Gatineau, local emergency services crews and other agencies will be ready to deal with the crisis, thanks to a weekend “mock disaster” exercise.
“We’ve already got the scene isolated,” said OPP Staff-Sgt. Marc Hemmerick. “Now we figure out what to do.” Staff-Sgt. Hemmerick was acting as the Hawkesbury OPP’s Incident Commander alongside his counterpart, Patrick Mayer, of the Hawkesbury Fire Department. The two of them, surrounded by more than a dozen police officers, firefighters, and paramedics from the Prescott-Russell Ambulance Service, pored over the details of a huge map of downtown Hawkesbury with a large red circle showing the containment area for a suspected toxic chemical spill.
It was part of a Sunday tabletop “mock disaster” exercise for local emergency services staff and officials for the town, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, and other provincial and federal agencies. Plans to hold the exercise began earlier in the week, but the event assumed even greater significance for everyone involved that day. It followed soon after an actual disaster not far away, where twin tornadoes wreaked havoc in Dunrobin, part of rural Ottawa, and across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Québec.
“The day was very beneficial,” said Fire Chief Roger Champagne. “We are now better prepared.”
Champagne noted that when he got his Yellow Alert warning by cellphone, last Friday, about the tornado situation further west, his first thought was “we might have a true emergency situation rather than a fictitious one.” He noted that the Sunday exercise, which ran for several hours, has assured him and other participants that all emergency service groups, town and counties officials, and others are now current on procedures and protocols for dealing with a disaster.
“The end result was very positive,” he said. “Everyone learned a lot.”
“We are better prepared,” added OPP Inspector Frankie Campisi. “We each know what our roles and responsibilities are.”
Last year emergency service groups and officials for all eight Prescott-Russell municipalities gathered in St-Isidore for a region-wide mock disaster exercise. The scenario for that event was a “pandemic situation” where everyone had to follow the protocols involved in dealing with an unknown contagion.
Provincial regulations require all municipalities and their emergency service departments to do at least one “mock disaster” exercise every year. Daniel Holmes, community emergency management coordinator consultant for Hawkesbury, observed that virtual disaster scenarios can be “complicated exercises” but they are invaluable in helping assess local emergency preparedness.
“I have a long list of different scenarios that I’ve done for various municipalities,” he said. “We’ve even once had a virtual practice for a tornado.”
The end result was very positive. Everyone learned a lot.
Patrick Mayer, du Service des de Hawkesbury, sert de commandant des opérations lors de la simulation d’une catastrophe, à la caserne de Hawkesbury. Il indique, sur une carte, la zone de la ville isolée en raison d’un déversement toxique. Les membres du Service des incendies de Hawkesbury, de la Police provinciale de l’Ontario (PPO) et du service ambulancier de Prescott-Russell, ainsi que des représentants de la Ville, des Comtés unis de Prescott et Russell et de divers autres organismes ont passé plusieurs heures, dimanche, à examiner les protocoles du plan d’urgence.