District emergency plan under review

Document covers fires, earthquakes and other disasters

  • Jul. 18, 2019 12:00 a.m.

The District of Houston’s emergency response plan is under review.

The plan, first crafted in 2011 and revised in 2015, has to be reviewed at least once a year by the District’s emergency coordinator, who is the fire chief, and senior staffers ranging from the chief administrative officer to representatives from engineering and general administration.

“The review is conducted at a staff level and is based on past Emergency Operations Centre activations, ‘lessons learned’ from other communities, provincial guidelines and best practices in local emergency planning,” explained District chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

Council members went through the document at a July 9 committee of the whole meeting.

District staffers also conducted an emergency preparedness tabletop exercise March 12, running through a wildfire evacuation scenario to further refine the response plan’s purpose.

“Staff are also reviewing recommendations received from this year’s emergency operations exercise and actioning those recommendations,” said Pinchbeck.

“Although there is little that can be done to fully prevent major events from occurring, there are strategies that may be initiated by first response agencies and District staff to coordinate response, protect life / assets, and to minimize operational downtime,” reads an introduction to the plan.

The plan covers everything from an aircraft crash, to a bomb threat, disease outbreak, earthquakes, evacuations, large fires, flooding, a hazardous material spill, major and extended power outages, railway derailments, severe weather and wildland urban interface fires.

Key to the District’s reaction to any emergency is the establishment of an emergency operations centre followed by establishing lines of communication with provincial authorities as needed.

As much as the plan provides response guidelines, it also addresses the effects on personnel.

“Prior to deactivating site and emergency operations centre response to a critical event it is important to ensure everyone is aware that it is normal to feel affected by the incident and it is very helpful to discuss their feelings and experiences with a trusted colleague, friend or family member,” the plan states.

“If the effects are extreme or long-lasting (more than 3-4 weeks), consideration should be given to seeking additional psychological help.”

In the section regarding a train derailment, the plan focuses on the safety of first responders, indicating they should take a defensive role until the train cargo is determined to be of a “manageable risk”.

“Determining the risk of hazmat exposure is a priority, identification of product and potential for risk to local population is a priority,” the plan states.

Pinchbeck said council members spoke at length about the plan contents relating to rail safety.

Rail traffic has grown along the CN line in the past few years through the development of port facilities at Prince Rupert.

And this year, propane exports have started, increasing the amount of rail traffic in this area.

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