Emergency management, search & rescue exercises bring hundreds to town

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Business was booming for hotels and restaurants in Slave Lake on the final weekend of April. The reason? Over 300 people in town for various emergency management meetings and exercises.
Regional fire chief Jamie Coutts put the number at over 400. It included fire department personnel, RCMP and other first responder types from 50 agencies all across the province.
All sorts of disaster scenarios had been dreamed up by the organizers, including an evacuation, a forest fire, a reception centre, a missing person in the bush, a rural meth lab, a dementia patient gone missing, injured people, a water rescue and other rescues involving planes, helicopters, ATVs and more.
“It was great to see all these people from all these agencies working under one command structure to take care of all of these mock situations,” says Coutts. “Solid performance all around. Huge thanks to all that helped set up, were victims, and participants from both days.”
Asked to comment on the value of such exercises from a municipal point of view, Slave Lake town manager Brian Vance said: “I believe that the Town and the MD are better prepared to handle a disaster than nearly any other community in Alberta. We have excellent training and excellent practices. Like insurance, it seems like a waste of money until the day you need it. And you always hope that you never need it.”
Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman also responded to the same question: “This year included ASAR (Alberta Search and Rescue) who held their annual conference, training, and AGM that brought over 200 people to town, so this was bigger than normal. It is also important to note we do leverage the cost by getting provincial grants to help offset the cost of doing these exercises. I guess the easiest answer for why we do this is if you hired a guy to build your house, do you want a guy that read a book about it, or a guy that read a book about it and actually built one?”

Mock disaster communications room.


An ice-rescue exercise somewhere in the vicinity of Marten River.


Searchers on Marten Mountain, looking for a couple of hikers ‘lost’ somewhere around Lily Lake.


A simulated leg injury created for the occasion by Nicole Elder.

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