Emergency management officials learn from communication breakdown during last year’s Kenow Wildfire

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Emergency management officials say they learned from communication breakdown during Kenow Wildfire
WATCH ABOVE: In the weeks and months following the Kenow Wildfire, government agencies tasked with firefighting and communication efforts came under the microscope. Kyle Benning explains how emergency management teams across Alberta have updated their procedures – Sep 11, 2018

Following one of the most devastating wildfires in recent memory, federal, provincial and municipal agencies are looking into what went wrong during last year’s Kenow wildfire.

According to the provincial and M.D. of Pincher Creek reports, communication was a major issue and emergency management teams across the province are trying to use this case as a learning experience.

The provincial report stated residents of different jurisdictions were receiving different information and various communications teams were not always working together to create a consistent message.

As a result, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) recommended streamlining how information is handled and creating a common language across the province so everyone is on the same page.

“In the Sage Creek fire, (you can see) really where some of these practices were put into place,” Municipal Affairs Minister Shayne Anderson told Global News.

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“They were ready to go in case something happened,” he added. “They knew about their messaging. They were getting messaging out to the public really quickly — which was one of the issues last year. The public was really worried. They felt like they weren’t getting the message really quickly, but this year, they were.”

But Parks Canada doesn’t agree with the findings from either report.

A statement from the federal organization said they proactively and regularly informed all partners of the Kenow wildfire including email updates and direct communication.

“Parks Canada conducted internal after-action reviews and participated in multiple other reviews with a wide variety of wildfire management partners, agencies and local authorities to identify what actions were successful and to also identify ‘lessons learned.’ This helps inform Parks Canada’s emergency planning and management moving forward,” the statement said.

Parks Canada didn’t make those internal reviews available to Global News.

WATCH: Global News’ coverage of the Kenow wildfire

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The M.D.’s report pointed to communication challenges between the incident command site and the emergency operations centre.

Global News asked to speak with the M.D., but post-report efforts are included on Tuesday’s council meeting agenda and officials didn’t want to discuss it before that meeting.

READ MORE: Kenow wildfire report points to communication flaws, calls for change in strategy

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The province has been working with municipalities on how to better handle emergency situations.

“We’ve been around the province as AEMA and municipal affairs asking municipalities, ‘What is it that you need? What are you lacking or what do you think you need more of?’ And we’ve really tried to put money where our mouth is to get into the mitigation prevention part of emergency management,” Anderson said.

Moving forward, the minister said emergency management crews need practice putting the new measures in place but acknowledged the difficulty involved in training for something as large as the Kenow fire.

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