To follow up on the train derailment in October, a recent debriefing by those involved in the area’s emergency response systems (EOCs) put everyone at the same table to discuss the issues. The gathering included representatives from Wadena town council, RCMP, Wadena fire department, the local emergency measures organization (EMO), the housing authority, the RM of Lakeview and Sean Miller, emergency services officer from the provincial department of Emergency Management and Fire Safety.
RM of Lakeview’s acting administrator Carrie Turnbull talks with Councillor Don Linde during the night of the train derailment last October, when the RM office remained open as a command centre for ratepayers to contact during the evacuation order.
After a brief timeline given by Reeve Mervin Kryzanowski of the RM of Lakeview, Miller provided an outline for discussion purposes; it included what worked well, what some of the barriers were, and what was needed to respond to future emergencies.
What went right
According to the report, several best practices from response to the derailment included the benefit of the mobile command centre provided by the province.
Mayor Greg Linnen commended the RM and the fire department for their efforts, stating that the co-operation between the two was key. This statement was reflected by Kryzanowski, who said much of what went right was partly due to the aid provided by the fire department and fire Chief Harold Narfason’s extensive list of contacts, as well as the working relationship and ongoing communication between on-site command and the emergency operations centre (EOC) located at the RM office.
Acting RM of Lakeview administrator Carrie Turnbull highlighted the media relations efforts by Wadena News publisher Alison Squires, who helped alleviate additional stress on the EOC by fielding questions from the different media outlets.
Barriers to response
Several points were raised regarding ongoing security of the site due to the derailment’s location, which was surrounded mainly by open farmland. This was initially evident by curiosity seekers bypassing highway roadblocks through local grid roads and continued as news of the derailment began hitting the mainstream media, posing a major problem at the site.
The fire department expressed difficulty because of the lack of a concrete base from which to operate, as members were required to move once emergency response units from CN and the province arrived. As well, there was no clear indication as to who exactly was to be giving direction on the scene. As CN did not communicate directly with the EOC, fire Chief Narfason relayed all information available from CN.
Beneficial to the discussion was Miller’s explanation of the province’s role, which is to provide support for whoever has declared the emergency. He also provided clarity as to the EOC’s role in supporting the efforts made by the on-site command post.
The fire department added that it was also difficult to determine the identification of the derailed cars, due to a lack of spotting gear and the fact that the department had no copy of the train’s manifest.
What to do next time
Proper equipment, methods of communication and updated information in all areas, from maps to contacts, make up the list of improvements required. Several recommendations were made:
—the purchase of binoculars and spotting scopes in order to prevent close proximity of emergency response personnel to the hot zone before it is deemed safe to enter;
—using the EOC’s resources to provide hard copies of manifests, for example, for distribution;
—updated information, such as maps with dwelling information, particularly in the case of evacuations;
—updated contact information of property owners, which proved a challenge for the RM in this event;
—better co-ordination between all parties, including the EMO, RM, Town and fire department;
—basic emergency management and emergency operations training for all parties;
—better use of local EMO resources;
—an appointed public information person on the EMO committee.
Miller challenged the participants to consider the possibility of an incident occurring in a more densely populated area, such as near the intersection of CN railroad track with Hwy. 35/Main Street. Participants agreed that a more comprehensive plan was needed in order to be fully prepared for an emergency of that scale.
Turnbull, who manned the emergency control centre at the RM office overnight during the derailment, told the News in an interview last week that there were a couple things coming out of the meeting that the RM would like to pursue.
“We would like to push for the emergency management and emergency operations centre courses, perhaps co-sponsored with the town,” said Turnbull, “as it is not just for Wadena.
“Also, our biggest challenge was having updated contact information for ratepayers. We sent out a survey and one of the items was to provide emergency contact information, but we only received about a 25 per cent response to that survey, so it makes it very difficult for us to have the right information, especially when it comes to an evacuation.”
By Alison Squires and Pat Casement