Operation Nanook prepares soldiers, responders for the worst

A Canadian Forces soldier is almost done drilling through a concrete slab the size of a small window, his only way into a building that has collapsed.

HAINES JUNCTION — A Canadian Forces soldier is almost done drilling through a concrete slab the size of a small window, his only way into a building that has collapsed.

His team has to go in to find and rescue potential victims after an earthquake hit the area.

Nobody was actually injured and the house is safe to walk in, since this is one of the scenarios Canadian Forces troops are working on during Operation Nanook.

The annual military exercise is taking place this year partly in the Haines Junction area.

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams out of CFB Trenton in Ontario and CFB Comox and Esquimalt in British Columbia are on the ground, along with more than 800 other military and civilian personnel.

The exercise isn’t so much to practise skills as it is to practise working with other agencies.

“Op Nanook is a great chance for multiple government agencies to come out and work together in a natural disaster,” said Glen Cooper, the USAR team leader out of CFB Esquimalt.

“We learn how we can work together to help the general public.”

If a major earthquake were to hit the country, the different USAR teams would come under one command. And working with the local authorities requires a lot of logistics and preparedness.

During the exercise, radios are constantly buzzing as teams exchange information with the main command centre, which oversees all the operations.

On top of the USAR teams, there are local representatives from the Yukon government, Whitehorse city firefighters, and the 12th Armoured Regiment of Canada out of Valcartier, Que., referred to by its French acronym, 12 RBC.

It’s striking how slow an earthquake rescue mission can be.

First the team has to determine whether there are any victims trapped inside the building.

Using a special device, rescuers can listen in from the outside.

“What it does is transmit seismic energy into acoustic (signals),” said Cpl. Mike Cusson, a firefighter by trade. “So you’d be able to hear somebody tapping, calling out for help.”

The device, called a Delsar, can pick up noises as quiet as heavy breathing or water running through a pipe.

Then comes the breaching.

Unlike an action movie, rescuers can’t blast through with a rocket, a grenade or a tank, so they have to drill holes the size of a thumb until they’ve dug out a hole big enough for a person to go through.

“It can be frustrating because it does take time,” said Cpl. Joshua Dwyer, who was deployed in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake there.

“But when you finally get there and see the difference you make and the smiles on people’s faces, it really helps.”

After the Nepal earthquake, Dwyer’s team was dispatched to the outskirts of Kathmandu. He was also flown to remote communities, where his team was the first contact the local population had with rescuers.

“For lots of people in the mountains, they had to travel 100 kilometres to get to the nearest hospital,” he said.

He and a medic rescued a pregnant woman on the side of a mountain who had been waiting for a week and a half for help.

The experience in Nepal taught Dwyer how important it is not to rush in.

Back on the outskirts of Kathmandu, he was clearing debris in an alleyway with bulldozers.

The equipment kept overheating so the soldiers took breaks.

Then a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit — not a tremor, a real earthquake.

“Everybody is running and crying,” Dwyer said. “It was a really bad place to be.”

Only one structure in the entire town came down during that earthquake, crumbling to rubble within feet of Dwyer and his team.

“You could barely stand up, it was shaking so bad,” he said. “It was a really eerie feeling.”

While Dwyer is speaking, the USAR teams have extracted two adults and a child — all mannequins.

A division from 12 RBC, travelling in light armoured Jeeps, pulls up near the house.

Two medics come out and check for vital signs, waiting to hear how the victims will be evacuated.

That is only one of the many exercises troops will have gone through this week.

On Wednesday two diving teams worked on a sunken paddlewheel boat scenario. On Thursday some teams took part in a plane crash scenario.

Operation Nanook wraps up today with the traditional community day, when soldiers meet with area residents. It’s scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Rotary Park.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An avalanche warning sigh along the South Klondike Highway. Local avalanche safety instructors say interest in courses has risen during the pandemic as more Yukoners explore socially distanced outdoor activities. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)
Backcountry busy: COVID-19 has Yukoners heading for the hills

Stable conditions for avalanches have provided a grace period for backcountry newcomers

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read