The alarm at Highwood High School sounded at precisely 9:56 a.m., moments after a tornado touched down, all but destroying the school.
That was the opening scenario for the largest mock exercise the Town of High River has held since 2013, when disaster struck for real.
Flood waters destroyed homes and businesses in the southern Alberta town that year as flooding impacted much of the southern half of the province. Some hard lessons were learned and town officials set out to improve emergency preparedness.
“This exercise is the culmination of four years of training on some of the things that went wrong in 2013,” said Carly Benson, director of emergency management for the Town of High River.
“So we did an extensive debrief process, identified some gaps and we have spent the past four years trying to address them, and this is a chance to see how far we’ve come.”
Emergency responders from surrounding towns and districts converged on the school, testing their ability to communicate with one another effectively.
“It gets very busy… whether it be a city, town jurisdiction, everybody has to come together,” said Adam Loria, EMS spokesperson for Alberta Health Services.
For the exercise, students wore realistic makeup to simulate injuries. The purpose of the exercise wasn’t lost on them – they remember 2013.
“Basically Mother Nature is going to throw anything at us and I feel we need to have people prepared for it in case something does come back to our base again,” said Maia Lepp, a Grade 12 student at the school.
“It does hit home because it’s High River, but it makes sense to train for it, because we need to expect the unexpected now, because it happened four years ago and it can happen anytime now” Grade 11 student Anthony Holm said.
Participants will analyze the emergency response after the two-day exercise concludes to see where improvements can be made.