In the case of an emergency, the City of Lethbridge activates an Emergency Plan including the opening of an Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) located at fire headquarters.
An emergency is any event that requires prompt coordination of persons or property to protect the safety, health or welfare of people or to limit damage to property. Lethbridge’s most common emergencies are weather-related; snow, flood, fire, and/or high winds. The City also prepares for industrial, chemical and rail accidents as well as power outages.
Did you know the City of Lethbridge has a dedicated Emergency Management Team? This group is a branch of our Fire and Emergency Services department, focused on building community and city preparedness. Additionally, the team creates plans on how the city can mitigate, respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters. It sounds like a lot, but these individuals act as a coordination point between many different business units, private-sector partners, non-government and non-profit agencies creating a team-centric process.
How does emergency management coordinate so many different groups and competing priorities?
This is no easy task! When an incident occurs, many groups will be involved, and some may have different priorities or response plans. Our emergency managers are able to step in, and promote collaboration by activating the city Emergency Coordination Center or ECC.
Once activated, the ECC acts as our main hub:
- Supporting activities at the incident site,
- Sending/updating critical information for the community, and
- Collaborating with all organizations involved for a cohesive response focused on life safety, incident stabilization and environmental and economic protection.
- Advanced planning considerations: how is the hazard changing, how do we adapt?
Once activated, the ECC uses a standardized structure, known as the Incident Command Systems (ICS). As of 2018, ICS is now a legislated component for the command, coordination and control in the Province of Alberta under the Emergency Management Act.
ICS provides us with an organizational structure, but so much more. It's a process of how planning is conducted, how to track resources, how decisions are made and by who, and how everyone, including responders, will be kept safe.
Who is in the ECC?
Depending on the size and nature of the emergency, partial or full activation of the ECC is determined. In the case of a full activation the following people gather together:
- Emergency Coordination Centre Director: Director of Emergency Management
- Operations Section Chief: Typically, this position is filled by the agency affected the most by the emergency. (ex. Police, Fire, EMS, Transit, Transportation, Public Works)
- Emergency Social Services (ESS): this team of city staff supports the community, providing reception centers or other assistance needed by those impacted.
- Public Information Officer: City of Lethbridge Corporate Communications
- Planning Section Chief: This is a representative who can come from various City departments (ex. facility services, Transportation, etc.) depending on the nature of the event.
- Logistics Section Chief: Members from our City Stores and Procurement Team may be activated to order supplies associated to the response and recovery
- Finance & Admin Section Chief: In the case of a prolonged emergency event, this representative would oversee the finances of the event
- Liaisons from various companies or stakeholders outside of City departments: (ex. Epcor, Atco, Canadian Healthcare Association, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, Alberta Health Services)
- Senior City Staff and Political Representatives - This group handles the many aspects of an emergency and ensures efforts are coordinated and resources are available as required.
- In the case of the September 2012 wildfires, the fires also impacted the County of Lethbridge and the County activated their ECC, which maintained communication with the City of Lethbridge ECC on a regular basis to ensure efforts remained coordinated.
The ECC remains open and functions until the emergency is over. Following the disbanding of the ECC, debrief meetings are carried out to record what worked well and what can be improved on in the future. Those lessons assist in making improvements for future events.
Practice, Practice, Practice
A lot of work goes into planning, but how to we make sure they work before an incident?
We lean on the old cliché, practice makes perfect. Our plans are broken down into functions, and tested annually with our local partners.
Our most common method to practice our plans is through table-top exercises, which is a discussion-based exercise where our team works through a scenario impacting the city or region.
The other method we like to use is a full-scale exercise. A full-scale exercise is closer to a dress rehearsal, where a hazard environment has been built for our team to physically respond to in a safe environment, and work through defined processes.
Both methods provide our team, partners and the public with knowledge of how plans are intended to work, and an opportunity to learn and revise. After any training session, we complete a thorough review, documenting what worked well, what can be improved and how it will be improved.
What Can Residents Do to Be Prepared?
• Residents should also be prepared for emergency situations. The Government of Canada asks citizens to have a 72-hour emergency plan. Information can be found here.
• Stay informed during an emergency
o Listen to the radio
o Watch TV or check local news or government websites
o Follow City of Lethbridge website, Twitter, or Facebook
o Follow Alberta Emergency Alert Twitter
The safety of residents is our number one concern and the City of Lethbridge is prepared and ready to ensure the necessary resources are available in the event of any emergency.
Click here for Frequently Asked Questions Regarding How the City Responds in Emergencies