Picture this: a freight train derails west of the Connaught Drive overpass, just outside the town boundary. That train is carrying anhydrous ammonia – a toxic gas often used in fertilizer.
The derailment has overturned the cars and gas is now leaking out into the park, toward Caribou Creek.
Depending on the level of exposure, anhydrous ammonia can affect the body in various ways. A small level of exposure can cause irritation of the nose and throat. A high level of exposure can cause skin to blister and burn within seconds. An even higher level can cause suffocation within minutes.
Imagine the anhydrous ammonia is on its way into town right this instant.
What do you think Jasper’s emergency responders would be doing to ensure your safety and the safety of the environment?
That’s something I found out first hand during a tabletop emergency scenario last Friday.
You see, every year the municipality, Parks Canada, ATCO, CN Rail, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, the RCMP and all other relevant organizations gather together to simulate an emergency.
The simulation is a practice run, so everyone knows what to do when a real emergency hits.
In every scenario, whether it’s a wildfire or a gas leak, the first step is to set up the emergency operation centre (EOC) in the Emergency Services Building.
Directing the show is Peter Waterworth, the town manager.
When he arrives at the centre, his first task is to contact the people he needs to manage the emergency.
Those people will become the section chiefs in charge of operations, planning, logistics, finance and administration, risk management and public information.
Once they arrive on site, the section chiefs are briefed on the situation and are then sent off to set up their station and call in reinforcements.
Their attention then turns to the task at hand: protecting life and the environment.
The room is buzzing with phone calls, people hustling from station to station and frequent meetings with all of the section chiefs.
It’s Waterworth’s job to keep everyone in check, to keep on top of all the incoming information and to stay one step ahead of the emergency by asking the right questions and giving the right directions.
Being in that room, watching everyone diligently working, I was amazed by how real the situation felt. Aside from a few wise cracks, laughs and cookie breaks, everyone treated the training exercise as if it was the real deal.
There were maps drawn up showing how fast the gas would spread, including how that spread differs at night. A state of local emergency document was filled out and signed by the mayor.
There were fake press releases, emergency alerts and web alerts written.
There were plans in place to evacuate the town. There were plans to move the EOC to Marmot Basin, since the gas would spread well beyond the Emergency Services Building after nightfall.
There were plans for food and water to be sent to the responders on the ground. There were plans for beds to be sent to Hinton where Jasperites and tourists would end up following the evacuation. There were plans for buses and who to pick up first.
The 30 people in the EOC had thought of what seemed like everything and even when their plans changed because of the increasing spread of the anhydrous ammonia, they were ready for it.
Being in that room, watching everyone come together as a team, I felt sure that Jasper would be well protected and well served in the case of a major emergency.
It was nothing short of reassuring to know that this type of exercise is undertaken every year and every year the process is further perfected.
In the same breath, seeing these first responders in action reminded me how important it is for residents to be prepared in the case of an emergency.
It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves for the first 72 hours. Two months ago, this was news to me, but now I take it very seriously.
Seeing how busy the EOC was showed me that there is a job to be done in an emergency and part of that job lies with residents.
By having our radios, flashlights, non-perishable food, toiletries, clothes, blankets and water tucked away, we’re doing our small part to ensure the safety of the whole community.
DISCLAIMER: The Last Word is an opinion column, it is meant to provoke thought and debate. As such, any opinions written here are the writer’s own.