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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Kenow Fire Debrief released



Chris Davis - The Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9 has released Kenow Fire Debrief dated November 6, 2017, prepared by Kenneth Kendall Consulting and MSC Consulting Ltd. The consultants were contracted by the MD to prepare the debrief. According to the debrief, it "creates an opportunity to learn for the future so that better decisions can be made by learning from mistakes and training can focus on the gaps identified to better prepare those involved for the next event." The debrief was contracted and therefore anticipated, and is not the same thing as the inquiry an ad-hoc group of MD of Pincher Creek citizens have asked MD council for.  According to the debrief, the consultants sought "to gather evidence of what preparedness efforts were in place prior to the wildfire, as well as to gather information on the decisions made during the response and re- entry. These were used to determine what worked well, what gaps were identified, and what opportunities exist for improvement."
"The conversation to all citizens as it needs to be for every public forum boils down to three questions: I am safe?  Doing you know what you are doing? Can I trust you?" - Public comment included in Kenow Fire Debrief


September 8 public briefing at Twin Butte Community Hall

The Kenow fire began late evening August 30, 2017 after a lightning strike "in southeast British Columbia ignited a wildfire in a remote, mountainous areas near the Alberta/BC border. The lightning strike was recorded by Alberta Wildfire computer tracking programs."  It could be seen from as far away as just west of Cowley, as coincidentally witnessed by this reporter, who was driving in the area at the time. Over the ensuing days the fire grew and spread towards Alberta, including Waterton Lakes National Park. Three public information sessions were held, the first on September 6 in Waterton, the second on September 8 at Twin Butte (video above) and the third at Beaver Mines on September 11 (video below).  On September 7 a mandatory evacuation was ordered for Waterton Park and Waterton townsite.  On September 11 "strong, late afternoon winds move the wildfire towards Waterton townsite. The fire makes the biggest growth and advancement yet, and by 23:00 hrs has gone past the townsite, moved north and east into the MD of Pincher Creek and Cardston County."  Mandatory evacuation orders were issued on September 11 for a section of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek from South Highway 505 to Waterton Lakes National Park and Castle Mountain Resort, for areas of Cardston County, areas of the Blood Tribe, and some other adjacent areas. No lives were lost "but 12 structures are destroyed, as well as some infrastructure." 

September 11 public briefing at Coalfields School (Beaver Mines)


The debrief cautions that hindsight is easier than foresight. It indicates that the MD of Pincher Creek has "received appropriate training in emergency management" and "the municipal Emergency Management Plan was completely revamped in 2016 and adopted March 28, 2017." It states that the magnitude and speed of the fire was not clearly represented by information provided to the MD by the Regional Fire Chief and Information Officer from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Computer simulation mapping proved to be inaccurate at predicting the speed and movement of the fire. The debrief was critical of the clarity and timeliness of information provided to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), which was located at the MD's administration building, because "There was limited information provided to the EOC. What information received was in some cases several hours old, not transmitted in layman's language and inaccurate."  According to the debrief, that created difficulties for the elected officials trying to get information to the citizenry, and for those citizens affected by the fire.  Sharing the administration building with Parks Canada was criticized as a "nice gesture"  but "was inadequate and not acceptable for emergency operations". 

Many shared the perceived idea that wildfire information went straight from the front lines to the Premier's Office rather than be shared with the MD of PC - Kenow Fire Debrief

September 12 press conference in Pincher Creek

The debrief is critical of Regional Fire Chief Dave Cox's role in the communication process. "During the event the MD of Pincher Creek Chief Administrative Officer/Director of Emergency Management was frustrated with the lack of timely and accurate information from the Regional Fire Chief and had requested a senior fire officer be assigned to the EOC. This did not occur after several requests."

According to the debrief "the MD could have made some decisions to better prepare their residents. An evacuation alert could have been issued," including issuing an evacuation alert could have been "several days to a week prior to the fire entering the MD," which "would have prompted the residents to prepare themselves for an evacuation."  The debrief later adds "Inaccurate information in the days leading up to September 11th and final public information meeting on the early evening of September 11th lulled the MD administration into under-reacting."





According to the debrief, "External communication to the public was very weak to nonexistent in the days leading up to the fire." It also states "The Information Officer for the municipality was caught in a frustrating position of limited to no information, pressure from councillors, other staff and the public."  It later states the "external and internal communication process was initially insufficient, but improved significantly with time, and was able to better manage the situation.The entire municipal organization was able to get itself organized and manage the situation after they realized the magnitude of the problem."

The citizens impacted in Division 1 of the MD felt that they were not a priority when it came to fire protection. - Kenow Fire Debrief

 

Sampling of public feedback and conclusions included in the debrief:

  • "We think we were lied to `by the sin of omission' - even the Premier knew more than we did."
  • Residents were asking, where is the fire? Are we are risk? What do you know?
  • Many key stakeholders felt these key pieces of information were not forthcoming from Municipal District of Pincher Creek.
  • Parks Canada, with approximately 60 people in the MD of PC Administration Building during the day, had requested permission to occupy the MD's council chambers room (which is the MD's EOC in times of emergencies). Took Parks four days to set up [admin office equipment and IT links] and two days to dismantle. In the opinion of many, 'they took it over', and were seen in other offices within the MD's admin building too. This occupation, in the opinion of many, had a detrimental impact on the MD's ability to all relevant emergency management activities of their own (assemble in one place, communicate collectively, mount posters, objectives, maps and other EOC documents on the walls, conduct effective situational reports with key ICS leads, etc). Yet some felt they were happy with that and maintained the opinion the MD still had enough room in spite of Parks Canada presence.
  • A common theme frustrating to many (observed by many external and internal representatives) are the personal conflicts. That hampers a more effective and timely response on behalf of occupants and all people within the zone of the wildfire threat.
  • A common sentiment was: If an Alert had been issued by the MD on Friday evening, Sept 8, and MD staff prepared over the weekend, eg: emergency evacuation orders and canned messages built, would that have helped residents, MD staff, and helped significantly the MD's image with the public.
  • Amazing community coming together after the fire. 280 people signed up to volunteer to help recover (rebuild fences - providing people and building supplies, for example).· 
  • Several Twitter statements and media coverage on Twitter and Facebook clearly demonstrated that community support and resiliency was strong.
  • Several debrief members voiced the reminder that, "put into perspective the severity of the situation: everyone was kept safe, there were a few houses lost."
  • A common perception held by many groups of stakeholders: Seems fire response personnel spent a lot of effort to protect Waterton town site. What did Parks Canada do to stop the fire from entering the MD of PC? What did the MD of PC do to prevent loss in their MD if the fire did come into their jurisdiction?
  • Several stakeholders and individuals felt strongly the MD of PC did not take wildfire threat nearly seriously enough, nor, in their opinion, was sufficient fire protection and firefighting efforts invested prior to the wildfire entering the MD.
  • The common perception was, "days were lost" and the "MD was a day late and a dollar short".
  • ...maps were not distributed in time to be of assistance to the RCMP in the field.
  • Public concerns regarding wildfire activity adjacent to Waterton Lakes National Park were raised during a meeting held at the Waterton townsite on Wednesday, September 6, 2017. As a result, an MD councilor experienced a number of phone calls from concerned residents. He felt it was important to initiate information sessions on the risk status.
  • The MD was pressured by residents to create and maintain a Facebook page where they could receive regular updates. It was agreed that this would be done. It was felt that, unfortunately, their MD did not meet the public information expectation standard or even came close to satisfying the need for timely accurate information. Many believed the MD did not take the wildfire threat seriously.
  • On Sept 12, landowners were fighting fires and there wasn't any help [fire trucks] coming to assist. It was perceived Chief Cox had access, [after becoming part of unified command], to lots of assets, including available air protection. But really, the landowners were fighting grass fires all day long and into 22:00 hrs of the night of Sept 12 on their own.
  • Five houses burned. Residents behind the barricades could see fire burning in the yard, but not one fire truck, only one house was standing. Two days after the fire went through, there were trucks everywhere, mopping up and putting out spot fires. Where were they when it really mattered?
  • Losing range grass is like losing our feed factory - that's what we use to feed our cows.
  • Everybody got out alive.
  • Chief Cox said at one point [as the wildfire was closing in on the MD] the fire crews made the decision to retreat [not fight the fire] but to assist residents to evacuate as that was the more important priority.
  • (Common Theme) The Vertical Church in Town of Pincher Creek was the ideal reception centre. Cots shipped out of Edmonton quickly, thanks to POC. Church members and minister was very accommodating. Evacuee registration process needs adjustment but Starbucks was always flowing. MD and Town had enough staff to get the reception centre up and running before the evacuation took place in the Park.
  • MD of PC had plenty of volunteers offering to help. Volunteer list created has been retained. MD did not engage any volunteers, just used staff at hand.
  • Many felt, "What would I do, as a land owner, to decide whether to protect my property thereby to risk my life and maybe my loved ones? A question each of us has to answer for ourselves."
  • Insufficient information from the Pincher Creek Regional Fire Department to the municipal EOC on a regular basis created significant gaps in knowledge and situational awareness that contributed to inaccurately identifying the magnitude of the problem and the inability to provide timely information to the public.
  • AEMA field officer: Many municipal employees don't understand their role.
  • AEMA field officers were heard to say, "we are an advisory agency." Many staff in MD said first they'd heard of it. If they are a "resource" they have a cop-like attitude that is not helpful. Maybe the take-charge type is not what AEMA needs for field officers, maybe they need people with more soft people skills. They have not done a good job of selling themselves. Had four AEMA officers here - and they did what? Instead they were perceived as dictatorial, superior overseers and quality control experts.
  • Lack of communications was a key aspect (before, during and after the fire). Updates to the public, for example, utilized the municipal website, as well as use of Alberta Emergency Alert, however the information we had was as much as 6 hours old. Automated call-out via telephone would have helped.
  • Some had concerns of criticisms about being informed in a timely manner. - It may just be the way things work in a real emergency, given the difficulty of accessing and sharing information available at the time. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) would have helped as well, especially when issued by the MD as it provides information with credibility.
  • (Common Theme) MD Pincher Creek councillors, administrators and EOC staff were not as well informed as Premier Rachel Notley. She was frequently kept informed by AEMA. Information pertinent of interest to the landowners (and home owners) should have been shared in a timely way. The Premier of Alberta, Rachael Notley, was in Fort McMurray and was giving a public briefing on Waterton Fire while we were simultaneously saying to the media there was no new information. That was poor timing and upsetting to the MD leaders. The Premier had information we didn't.
  • Regarding [early] media statements: Uncertainty and hesitation do not represent the best image or reputation of the MD of Pincher Creek.
  • Our CAO and DEM (Director of Emergency Management) weren't getting good and timely information so it was hard for the DEM to pass it onto the rest of us.
  • Stop operating in silos. Everybody needs to work together. In this case, sitting with Parks Canada in this incident, by learning and sharing intel with the MD of PC.
  • Community was starving for information and very appreciative of what they got. Did talk about standing up the EOC after the Beaver Mines meeting, but the decision was made not to do that. However the EOC was started in a limited response shortly after the meeting. An emergency alert was being prepared and a determination of who would be impacted.
  • Mixed messages re relation with Parks Canada in the MD building - not sure what Parks and MD were sharing about the wildfire. Whatever it was it wasn't getting to MD staff. Not until Twin Butte (Friday Sept 8) meeting did many get some sense of the concern of the residents, of the immediacy and urgency of the fire's impact on the Park and into the MD of Pincher Creek.
  • Chief Mountain Gas was disappointed they were not in loop much sooner with intel sharing with EOC.
  • AEMA was like a math teacher. They wanted the correct answer but more than that, they wanted the calculations done their way. Field officers came in the worst times and did not explain WHY they wanted to do something. One officer interrupted and delivered what he called a "teachable moment". Bad timing, very insensitive, and antagonized us. The AEMA field officers just muddied the water.  AEMA was directing our staff, giving tours of our building, all without consulting the DEM. That was in poor taste and inappropriate.
  • (Common Theme) Many thought there is a relationship and by extension, a communication problem with the POC and the AEMA with the MD of PC. Council and EOC. The feeling was that AEMA were thinking it was a question of who was in command, that they were not here to help, but to run things; they were not assisting but were actually interfering. They [AEMA] made little or no effort to keep MD staff and in turn council informed.
  • More people are needed in today's world to properly staff an Information Office (IO). If it's a big, complex, long-lasting event, the IO need at least two persons for social media, one for fact gathering, one for telephone and another for conventional face-to-face media. On big events that adds up to five IO staff.
  • At the Vertical Church reception centre, the residents wanted information, bu the reception centre staff had nothing to give them. It would have been nice to keep the evacuees updated.
  • Some people remarked they hope everybody is in the building next time so they can get the necessary information to make timely media briefings. Some jurisdiction information officers were initially not allowed to speak, then eventually they were. So there was lots of confusion of who was authorized (to) be a spokesperson.
  • It is important to draw from different groups and gather the trained individuals to build an emergency management team. It doesn't matter from which community or organization people are from.
  • Many respondents remarked that RCMP was supportive and in turn, had a great deal of support.
  • Once you are behind [in a disaster] you are always catching up and you will never make that time up. This doesn't go well with the public and you lose their trust. People want news. They want it, they deserve it. People will search for it and in the absence of a reliable trusted source, will create their own stories.

EXCERPTS FROM THE KENOW FIRE DEBRIEF:
  • On September 1st, Parks Canada staff began monitoring the wildfire, now labeled the Kenow Fire. Concerns were immediately noted that extraordinarily dry, record-breaking conditions and lack of ability to battle the fire effectively could result in the fire reaching the Park and the Waterton Townsite. On September 3rd, Parks Canada announce the Kenow wildfire had reached the Park boundary (AB/BC) and began communications with Alberta Wildfire, MD of Pincher Creek and RCMP Pincher Creek detachment. Emergency planning includes evacuation of the Park. Western areas of the Park are closed to the public. Embers from the main wildfire ignite another fire to the north (referred to in this document as the "Castle Fire"). which will eventually lead to the evacuation of the Castle area and Castle Mountain Resort. On September 5th, winds increase and the fire spreads toward Akamina Pass (which leads to Waterton townsite). Parks Canada activates Incident Command, an evacuation alert is issued that evening to Waterton townsite residents and remaining occupants. On September 7th, at 13:50 hrs, Canada Parks issues a mandatory evacuation of Waterton Park and Waterton townsite of all residents, tourists and other non- essential personnel.
  • On September 11th, strong, late afternoon winds move the wildfire towards Waterton townsite. The fire makes the biggest growth and advancement yet, and by 23:00 hrs has gone past the townsite, moved north and east into the MD of Pincher Creek and Cardston County. This extraordinary advancement results from the wildfire covering a distance of 26 kilometers in four hours, often travelling 80 to 100 meters per minute. No lives are lost but 12 structures are destroyed, as well as some infrastructure.
  • On August 30, 2017, late in the day, a lightning strike in southeast British Columbia ignited a wildfire in a remote, mountainous areas near the Alberta/BC border. The lightning strike was recorded by Alberta Wildfire computer tracking programs. A helicopter was launched the following morning and confirmed the lightning had started a forest fire. British Columbia wildland firefighting crews were already taxed with the busiest fire season on record so crews were not able to mobilize quickly to strike the fire from the air. In addition the remote and steep terrain created a challenge as crews could not attack the fire from the ground. As a result, the fire grew and moved by west winds, spread towards Alberta and Waterton Lakes National Park.
  • The unfortunate outcome of a post event debrief is that individuals can judge the actions of the municipality and responding agencies with the luxury of time.What is important to remember is that the post incident debrief creates an opportunity to learn for the future so that better decisions can be made by learning from mistakes and training can focus on the gaps identified to better prepare those involved for the next event.
  • The MD of Pincher Creek has received appropriate training in emergency management. Management has been trained to ICS Level 300 as per the ICS Canada training curriculum and the training has been tested with several enhanced exercises and tabletop exercises. The municipal Emergency Management Plan was completely revamped in 2016 and adopted March 28, 2017.
  • Evidence shows that even a well trained and prepared municipality can have difficulty in responding to an event impacting their community when you factor in outside jurisdictional challenges, silo mindset of government agencies representing senior levels of government, poor communication or no communication from the site management representative and personality conflicts.
  • In hindsight the MD of Pincher Creek was reacting to fire based on information provided by the Regional Fire Chief and Information Officer from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. This information did not clearly represent the magnitude of fire and speed at which it was moving towards their municipality.
  • The day the fire left the park and entered the MD it had moved 26 kilometers in 4 hours. This equates to 100 meters per minute or over 6 kilometers an hour. Computer simulation mapping indicated that the fire would not leave the park. The computer simulation program was wrong as the fire had other intentions.
  • The municipal Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is only as capable as the information it receives from the frontline. There was limited information provided to the EOC. What information received was in some cases several hours old, not transmitted in layman's language and inaccurate. This leads to frustration for the entire EOC/municipal organization, the elected officials and more importantly the citizens.
  • Approximately 11 days prior to the fire impacting the MD, the fire was on the verge of entering the Waterton National Park. The administration leaders of the park requested to access the MD of Pincher municipal council chambers to set up their administrative operations. Wanting to be a good neighbor the Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) made the municipal building available to Parks Canada. Although this was a nice gesture, it was to become a major hindrance to the municipality. The council chambers is considered the EOC for the MD and this is the room in which the municipal staff have trained in during exercises and had set the room up as an EOC during the training events. When the fire impacted the MD the administration used the kitchen/staff area and other offices as their EOC. This space was inadequate and not acceptable for emergency operations. Parks Canada should have been directed to pack up their operation and move to another location several days before the fire impacted the MD. This would have allowed the MD staff adequate time to set up the room designated as the EOC and work in a familiar work space in which they trained.
  • The MD of Pincher Creek does not have operational authority over the regional fire service. The Regional Fire Chief and the department is accountable to the Pincher Creek Regional Emergency Services Commission (PCRESC). During the event the MD of Pincher Creek Chief Administrative Officer/Director of Emergency Management was frustrated with the lack of timely and accurate information from the Regional Fire Chief and had requested a senior fire officer be assigned to the EOC. This did not occur after several requests. Frustration built to the point that the CAO of the MD of Pincher Creek/DEM and the CAO of the Town of Pincher Creek, requested a meeting with the Chair of PCRESC and the Regional AEMA Field Officer. The meeting occurred and the importance of a fire officer in the EOC was expressed to the Chair. This request unfortunately to the best of our knowledge did not get actioned. A second meeting was requested of the PCRESC Chair and all of MD of Pincher Creek council to emphasize the need for representation in the EOC. At this point the MD was significantly behind the curve with accurate information. 
  • In all the emergency exercises conducted by the MD the importance of which agencies needed to be present in the EOC was constantly reinforced to all participants. The Fire Department understood that it was absolutely necessary that the Fire Department supply a senior officer to the EOC. Yet this did not occur in the real event until out of frustration the CAO/DEM threatened to bring in another fire official from a nearby municipality to fill the role in the EOC. Ultimately the Pincher Creek Regional Deputy Fire Chief was assigned to the EOC, Thursday, September 14th, long after the fire had essentially stopped spreading. Why the PCRESC Chair did not issue a direct order is unknown.
  • In response to the changing dynamic of the fire and in spite of the lack of information coming from the fire line, the MD could have made some decisions to better prepare their residents. An evacuation alert could have been issued several days to a week prior to the fire entering the MD. With the alert issued it would have prompted the residents to prepare themselves for an evacuation. Unfortunately the MD relied on information from computer simulation mapping and government agencies who felt the fire was not going to leave the park. In fact the public information meeting held on September 11th presented a map showing fire location that was over 6 hours old and the public was told that they were safe that night. Yet that afternoon and evening the wind picked up the fire advanced 26 kilometers in 4 hours. Inaccurate information in the days leading up to September 11th and final public information meeting on the early evening of September 11th lulled the MD administration into under-reacting. Not surprisingly the State of Local Emergency and Evacuation order given shortly after the September 11th public meeting. Many citizens thought they were not given sufficient advance warning to allow a non-emergency evacuation.
  • Although the municipal administration was not fully informed and thought the fire was not going to leave the park based on poor information the reality was much different. Despite poor or inaccurate information, other actions could have been taken by senior administration of the MD. Parks Canada was a guest in the MD's building and the CAO/DEM could have stepped into the council chambers and demanded hourly updates on the speed and direction of the fire from the moment the fire entered the national park. Or more importantly, Parks Canada would have easily been able to walk down the hall and provide that information to the MD on an hourly basis in hopes of keeping informed their longtime neighbor. From this information a more robust response of MD resources and more accurate public information could have been generated.
  • The AEMA response and support at this event was very apparent. However the approach used was not always appreciated by some of the municipal staff. The consultants sensed a long term, less than reasonable professional relationship between senior MD of PC administration and AEMA field officers. In the Debrief Sections, the reader will see some of the comments from many staff members regarding the AEMA approach to this event. It becomes apparent that a previously strained relationship before the event challenged patience and frayed nerves and the relationship going forward is significantly damaged and requires commitment to rebuild the relationship on both sides. It was promoted that the previous departmental philosophy of AEMA field officers was a "Hand on the shoulder of the municipality" but this may not be the present day philosophy of the department. Some of the decisions made by AEMA field staff were directive in nature. Some of the decisions made by the field officers might have been technically correct but ICS fundamentals were perceived as not being followed. An example of this was to source an information officer from another municipality to assist. This decision was not cleared by the DEM. The field officer did remind the DEM later that the municipality was responsible to cover the expenses of the outsourced information officer. This did not create a relationship of respect.
  • The area that garnered the most frustration of the municipal administration, elected officials and especially the public was the communication process. The internal communication process was not good. The sharing of information from the frontline to the EOC was limited and inconsistent as discussed earlier. The information forwarded to the municipal staff and emergency social services staff and volunteers was limited to nonexistent in the first crucial 24 hours of the event. The elected officials were very frustrated with the lack of information and their inability to answer even simple questions of the residents. Opportunities to establish internal organizational communication lines and processes in advance of the fire leaving the park were not taken advantage of.
  • External communication to the public was very weak to nonexistent in the days leading up to the fire. We suspect that there was a lulled sense of urgency because of the comments made by fire officials that the fire was not likely to leave the park and the fire was not moving rapidly. However as mentioned earlier that all changed on the day of September 11th when the wind increased and fire moved very rapidly. At that point the opportunity to stay ahead of the problem with adequate information to the public was lost and now it was a matter of a hurried evacuation at night because life safety became the priority. The Information Officer for the municipality was caught in a frustrating position of limited to no information, pressure from councillors, other staff and the public. The information officer struggled and tried to cope with the challenge. Fortunately help came from the RCMP information officer and municipal information officers from other municipalities. After some significant challenges in a 24 hour period the information team was able to get things under control and begin to manage the flow of the information. The issuing of press releases and the managing of the message improved.
  • The lack of information and poor communication hi-lighted a significant problem with this emergency response of many government agencies, three levels of government, many first responding departments and the many different agendas of all these players. The desire to stay within a corporate/government "silo" and not openly communicate and share information became terribly apparent when the Premier of the Province gave a press conference in Fort McMurray regarding the Kenow wildfire and commented on loss of buildings and status of the fire. The elected municipal representatives of the MD of Pincher Creek didn't have that information to share with the constituents. This was a major black eye to the local councillors and significant example of poor communication between government departments and levels of governments. This will continue to happen in the future unless changes in approach, knocking down of departmental silos and sincere desire to share information on all issues becomes a government department policy and a corporate culture mindset.
  • AEMA has indicated that they act as the conduit of information from the municipality to the province. This conduit is to flow both ways. Why wasn't the municipality informed in advance of the premier's press conference of the facts to be shared with the public? One of the fundamentals of ICS regarding communication and flow of information was not followed.
  • The municipal Information Officer learned through trial by fire the importance of the information process and has indicated that they are much better prepared for a future event. As we have learned in many previous disaster events, the timeliness and accuracy of information is demanded and expected by today's public. This can be a challenge in fast moving events, but this demand also emphasizes the importance of early ramp up of resources to not only respond to the affected site but also the early ramp of resources to inform those who are about to be impacted or have been impacted is critical. The public wants to know what has happened, what will happen next and when will they get the next update on information so that they can come to grips with how they are impacted and what the future looks like. These are not necessarily unreasonable requests. The advice given during the debrief process by a capable information officer is to answer three questions for the public: The evacuation process on the night of September 11th although hasty was successful and no loss of life occurred. Could a hasty evacuation have been avoided? The answer is yes. Evacuating people is not a decision to be taken lightly, especially when the evacuation impacts livestock. However the lessons learned in this event should and will have a lasting effect on those involved. Luckily some the residents impacted by the fire that night had already taken upon themselves to move personal belongings and livestock in advance. They didn't wait for an official evacuation notice from the municipality.
  • This is a valuable lesson to property owners living in areas that could be impacted by wild land fires. Emergency Preparedness Canada and Alberta Emergency Management Agency promote citizens to be self sufficient for at least 72 hours. The early evacuation of some of the residents based on their own decision is an example of being proactive, of taking personal responsibility and be self sufficient.
  • The citizens impacted in Division 1 of the MD felt that they were not a priority when it came to fire protection. Much firefighting equipment and sprinkler systems were relocated and assigned to the Castle Mountain area. Requests could have been made to AEMA field officers or through the Office of the Fire Commissioner for additional fire fighting resources from other parts of the province to protect structures in Division1. To the best of our knowledge that request was not made. If the resources were in place would that have made a difference? That is hard to determine given the size, strength, and speed of the fire on the evening of September 11th. Fire personnel said it was one of the fastest moving fires that they had observed. The evening of September 11th the wildland fire fighters engaged in the fight were at risk as well, given the intensity of the fire and had to evacuate to safety.
  • The process of permitting the residents access to their properties was cumbersome and very frustrating. In some cases several different permits were required to be filled out depending on requirements by the provincial department or Parks Canada where your property was in relation to the evacuation area. This was confusing for the residents as to where they were supposed to go to get permits. Some of the residents were bounced between offices. This process became highly bureaucratic and unreasonable. In some cases residents disregarded the barricades and found other methods of access to the properties. The idea that permitting ranchers and farmers back to their properties for only two hours should be reviewed in terms of realistic practicality. There were several cases that property owners did not respect the two hour time limit because they were caring for their livestock.
  • The important thing to remember is that no lives were lost. There were buildings lost but given the fire conditions, fuel load and weather conditions it is hard to conclude that those buildings lost could have been saved. Opportunities for the municipality to prepare in advance of September 11th in Division 1 were lost, and this created stress and anxiousness for its residents. The information sharing and reporting process was not satisfactory. Senior municipal administration was not getting the information they needed nor was it delivered in a fashion that created an air of urgency. The loss of the municipal council chambers to Parks Canada seriously hampered the municipal staffs' ability to establish an emergency operations centre with adequate work space.
  • The lack of information from the fire frontline to the CAO/DEM should have prompted the DEM to immediately request for a professional fire officer from the Provincial Operations Centre. It is possible that the chair of PCRESC did little to direct the Regional Fire Chief to provide a fire officer. Ultimately the Deputy Fire Chief was assigned on Thursday, September 14th. This assignment was day's late and created unnecessary stress and exacerbated a difficult situation.
  • The weak working relationship between AEMA and the impacted municipality needs to be repaired by both parties. This unfortunate relationship created unnecessary additional friction and problems between the field officers and senior administration.
  • The external and internal communication process was initially insufficient, but improved significantly with time, and was able to better manage the situation. The emergency social services group was able to respond to the needs of the evacuees and the volunteers and staff learned on the job. The great outcome was the wide spread support from the community to the ESS group.The entire municipal organization was able to get itself organized and manage the situation after they realized the magnitude of the problem. All staff involved learned many lessons regarding this disaster and the speed with which events and follow on events can occur. The consultants are familiar with this administration and Council and have confidence in their collective capability and potential. This event has provided many lessons and those lessons will lead to improvements.

September 12 updates: Southwestern Alberta wildfire evacuations


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