High River tries to improve disaster response with ice storm scenario

CALGARY – The town of High River, along with the municipal district of Foothills, activated their emergency social services team in a mock disaster exercise Thursday.

The scenario was an ice storm, like the one that hammered southern Ontario in December 2013, but simulated to happen in Alberta.

“The primary issue is power outages – so in High River in our scenario, half the town has been without power for about three days,” said Carly Benson, deputy director of Emergency Management for the town of High River.

Like the flood of 2013, reception centres were quickly set up to accommodate evacuees.

But the flood taught town officials and emergency responders an important lesson – their emergency social services plan was inadequate.

“We were wildly understaffed for the floods, so we’ve reached out and really expanded our program,” said Benson.

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READ MORE: Alberta holding 3-day emergency disaster exercise simulating ice storm

Reaching out means making sure every possible agency has a presence in the region.

“We’ve got the M.D. of Foothills, we’ve got the Red Cross, Alberta Health Services, the town of High River and as many agencies locally that we’re able to pull from,” said town councillor Cathy Couey.

The Emergency Social Services (ESS) team has no shortage of volunteers – many of whom were victims of the flood.

Kathy Lambourn is one of them.

“A lot of us have gone through the floods of 2013, whether you were affected or not physically, everybody was affected,” said Lambourn.

“So it’s really important that we all need to help each other, and if we don’t step in and help, who’s going to do this?”

High River’s disaster response has undergone several revisions since June of 2013.

The town will evaluate its response during this drill and tweak it where necessary before a real disaster strikes.

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