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Report calls for Strathcona County to review emergency response, communication in wake of 2018 explosions

Report into Strathcona County explosion response calls for improved communication
WATCH: An independent report into its response to explosions in a Sherwood Park parkade says that Strathcona County needs to improve its communications and emergency response plan. Julia Wong has the details.

An independent review of Strathcona County’s response to a pair of explosions at a community centre parkade in Sherwood Park last year has concluded that the municipality should review its emergency management program.

The report, put together by an independent consultant, goes through the county’s actions starting with the explosions at the Sherwood Park Community Centre on Nov. 6, 2018, until the facility resumed full operations on May 8, 2019.

The report was presented to council at its meeting on Tuesday.

It said a review of the county’s emergency management program should include reinforcing the roles of the emergency advisory committee and the emergency management agency to optimize their roles during major incidents.

READ MORE: Strathcona County set to release report on response to 2018 parkade explosions

The report also recommends that the county enhances its crisis communications plan, noting that it could have released a media statement earlier in the evening on the night of the explosions.

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In April, a Global News investigation uncovered internal emails showing how officials argued over the release of information to the public as well as an attempt by the county to control posts on a local Facebook page.

The emails show the mayor repeatedly asking for a statement to be released. However, that did not happen for several hours. The county’s first statement to the public came approximately six hours after the first explosion.

“Even if only a holding statement advising the community that the county had a full response to the incident and was working closely with the RCMP towards stabilization of the incident,” said the report.

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Reaction to report into 2018 Strathcona County centre explosions
Reaction to report into 2018 Strathcona County centre explosions
“It is apparent the delay was due to the county who sought to co-ordinate with the RCMP [on] the facts of the situation.”

READ MORE: Global News Investigates: Emails reveal attempt to control social media posts after Strathcona County explosions

However, the report concludes that such a statement would not have made a significant difference in the county’s response as a whole. 

Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank said Tuesday that the county has adopted the “entire report,” and that a “robust” communications plan would be used moving forward.

“We will give our incident commander full authority to interact with the [RCMP Media] K Division,” Frank said.
“Yes, there’s room to improve. But at the end of the day, overall, the [county’s] plan was well executed.”
Global News Investigates: Concerns over emergency preparedness, leadership after Strathcona County explosions
Global News Investigates: Concerns over emergency preparedness, leadership after Strathcona County explosions

Frank said that in future the county would move to issue a holding statement, but that he believed in this specific case, the county made its decision to focus its efforts on the safety of the surrounding area.

“We [were] focused on loss of life,” he said. “There was a lot of communication that evening. We talked to the residents, we talked to the schools.

“Safety of the community is paramount and that’s where the resources were dedicated.”

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READ MORE: RCMP confirm Tannerite was used in Strathcona County explosions; motive unclear

The report also said that following some “initial challenges” related to the stabilization of the scene, the county “provided ongoing internal and external crisis communications in the days, weeks, and months following Nov. 6, 2018.”

Other final recommendations included establishing protocols for activating incident management teams and command protocols.

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No one was injured by the explosions.

RCMP say the first explosion happened at around 6:30 p.m. and the second — which was not deliberately set, but rather triggered by the first blast — took place around 8:15 p.m.

Police concluded the first blast was deliberately triggered by Kane Kosolowsky, 21, before he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Investigation into Sherwood Park explosions leaves some on edge
Investigation into Sherwood Park explosions leaves some on edge