By Pauline Kerr
It was the stuff of which nightmares are made – severe weather with flooding, followed by a toxic chemical spill (sulphur dioxide, a potentially fatal chemical) at the main intersection of town. What to do first? How to handle the long-term consequences?
Exercise Trillium Resolve took place Oct. 16 in Huron County, part of a province-wide emergency training exercise.
For the most part, it was a table top exercise, allowing for discussion of emergency plans. There was the full activation of an emergency shelter in Bluewater.
The exercise generally went well but did reveal areas that need work – that’s what emergency exercises are for. Communications was a key area that needs improvement, according to Gary Long, who directed the exercise in North Huron.
Gary Wood, who directed the exercise at the county level, noted Huron went a day ahead of the main exercise (which involved the same weather event and affected radioactive material at the Bruce nuclear site).
Wood described how Huron’s computer technology was used in the exercise to everyone’s benefit, something the county has been doing five or six years. “We’re getting good at this,” he said. In looking to the future, Wood speculated about the possibility of sharing that knowledge with other municipalities.
He commended Gary Long, North Huron CEO, for the work he did on directing the exercise in North Huron.
Trillium Resolve (Huron Challenge IV) began when a truck spilled SO2 at the corner of county roads 4 and 86 at the south end of Wingham. Sulphur dioxide has a number of industrial uses, including preserving fruit, but causes potentially fatal breathing problems if it gets in the air. An evacuation order went out for an 11-kilometre radius surrounding Wingham – schools, the hospital, Braemar retirement and nursing home, as well as homes and businesses. An emergency shelter was set up at the Blyth community centre. Residents were ordered to evacuate immediately, and if unable to do so, to find shelter on the top floor of their homes and await EMS. Emergencies were also declared in Morris-Turnberry, Howick and the county.
Deputy Reeve David Riach served as head of North Huron council in the absence of Reeve Neil Vincent, who was filling in at the county level for Warden Bernie MacLellan.
Wingham Police Chief Tim Poole commented that had the situation been real, it was obvious the municipality would have been overwhelmed. Resources from the county and province would have been required. However, it was a good learning experience, he said, and allowed new people to get up to speed with the municipality’s emergency plan.
North Huron’s Acting Fire Chief Keith Hodgkinson agreed there was a lot learned, thanks to the exercise. One of the important lessons was the need for greater coordination among the various municipalities involved.
Long spoke of the need for better communications right across the board, and to strengthen PRISM.
He noted that as far as equipment is concerned, the community has a lot of what would be needed in a real emergency. But what has to be looked at, is if it’s enough.
At the local level, the exercise involved North Huron council, senior staff, police and fire, plus county representatives from social services, and EMS. The larger multi-county disaster simulation included representatives from Bruce Power,
Maitland Valley Conservation Authority, Ministry of Environment, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, County of Huron, Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, HazMat, and several lower tier municipalities.