Operation Nanook prepares emergency responders for the worst

Volunteers from the Yukon’s Special Operations Medical Extrication Team prepare for a helicopter flight on a CH-146 Griffon from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron during Operation NANOOK-TATIGIIT in Whitehorse on May 31, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News) Volunteers from theYukon’s Special Operations Medical Extrication Team (SOMET) prepare for a helicopter flight on CH-146 Griffon from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron during Operation Nanook-Tatigiit in Whitehorse on May 31, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Volunteers from the Yukon’s Special Operations Medical Extrication Team take a familiarization flight on a CH-146 Griffon from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron during Operation NANOOK-TATIGIIT in Whitehorse on May 31, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News) Volunteers from theYukon’s Special Operations Medical Extrication Team take a familiarization flight on CH-146 Griffon from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron during Operation Nanook-Tatigiit in Whitehorse on May 31, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Canadian Armed Forces members and Mt. Lorne volunteer fire department train together for a structural collapse emergency near the Boyle Barracks in Whitehorse on May 29, 2019. The exercises were part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit, an annual national emergency training operation that rotates yearly between the territories. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Canadian Armed Forces members, Mt. Lorne volunteer fire department and others move concrete blocks by hand in practice for a structural collapse emergency near the Boyle Barracks in Whitehorse on May 29, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Canadian Armed Forces members, Mt. Lorne volunteer fire department and others move concrete blocks by hand in practice for a structural collapse emergency near the Boyle Barracks in Whitehorse on May 29, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Members of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit do structural field training near Boyle Barracks in Whitehorse on May 29, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Members of 4 Engineer Support Regiment receive wildland firefighting training during Operation Nanook-Tatigiit in Whitehorse on May 27, 2019. (MCpl Charles A. Stephen/Department of National Defence)
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces from across Canada clear a portion of the Trans-Canada Trail alongside members of the Carcross Ranger Patrol during Operation Nanook-Tatigiit 19 in Whitehorse on June 1, 2019. (Cpl Karen Neate/Department of National Defence)
Crews remove a metal beam from the back windshield of a vehicle during Urban Search And Rescue and casualty extrication training at Carcross cutoff in Whitehorse on June 3, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Crews remove a concrete block from the roof of a vehicle during Urban Search And Rescue and casualty extrication training at Carcross cutoff in Whitehorse on June 3, 2019. (MCpl Charles A. Stephen/Department of National Defence)
A dummy is covered in ruble after a vehicle crashed into the side of a residential building during a mock rescue scenerio for Urban Search and Rescue training conducted by the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt USAR Team in Whitehorse on June 3, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
As part of Urban Search and Rescue training, a military firefighter penetrates the wall of a building to rescue a “victim” trapped inside a house near Carcross Cutoff in Whitehorse on June 3, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces enter a building to rescue a “victim” trapped inside as part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit Urban Search and Rescue training in Whitehorse on June 3, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces enter a building to rescue a “victim” trapped inside as part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit Urban Search and Rescue training in Whitehorse on June 3, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Canadian Forces Members from across Canada along with members of the 1 Canadian Rangers Patrol Group Carcross depart for a Search and Rescue Training event at Marsh Lake during Operation Nanook-Tatigiit 19 on Jun 05, 2019. (Cpl Karen Neate/Department of National Defenc
Canadian Forces Members from across Canada along with members of the 1 Canadian Rangers Patrol Group Carcross depart for a Search and Rescue Training event at Marsh Lake during Operation Nanook-Tatigiit 19 on Jun 05, 2019. (Cpl Karen Neate/Department of National Defence)
A sandwich board directs “evacuees” to a reception centre set up at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 5. The live training exercise was part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit which imagined a fire approaching Whitehorse from the south. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A reception centre set up for 200 Cowley Creek and Mary Lake “evacuees” at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 5, 2019. The live training exercise was part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit which imagined a fire approaching Whitehorse from the south. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A reception centre set up for 200 Cowley Creek and Mary Lake “evacuees” at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 5, 2019. The live training exercise was part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit which imagined a fire approaching Whitehorse from the south. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A reception centre set up for 200 Cowley Creek and Mary Lake “evacuees” at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 5, 2019. The live training exercise was part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit which imagined a fire approaching Whitehorse from the south. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A reception centre set up for 200 Cowley Creek and Mary Lake “evacuees” at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 5, 2019. The live training exercise was part of Operation Nanook-Tatigiit which imagined a fire approaching Whitehorse from the south. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The military and local emergency responders spent two weeks practicing how they would work together in the event of a major emergency.

Operation Nanook-Tatigiit wrapped up June 6.

Lt. Col. Hope Carr, task force commander of the operation, said the training exercise that saw 145 military personnel descend on Whitehorse and work with locals in responding to a mock emergency has set the stage for a well-coordinated response should the real thing arise.

“The Yukon government and northern partners, with the Canadian Armed Forces in support, have been able to work through training and planning to help set up conditions for success if a real event were to happen,” she said June 5. “As our partners will attest to, training never ends when the operation is over.”

The exercise happens annually in one of the three territories, coming to the Yukon every three years. Territorial and municipal officials work with the military to test their emergency response in a played out scenario.

In this case, the storyline had a wildfire approaching the city from the south with the neighbourhoods of Cowley Creek and Mary Lake evacuated.

Residents from the neighbourhood volunteered to be evacuees, arriving at the Canada Games Centre the morning of June 5 where a reception centre had been set up for 200 “evacuees”.

They were greeted outside the CGC by Health and Social Services staff tasked with accepting any pets that came in and directing them to the reception centre in the large flexihall.

Inside, “evacuees” needing medical care would, in theory, be seen to with a basic medical centre set up; refreshments and snacks would be available for those who may need a bite to eat; respite child care will be offered to families and if a child showed up without a legal guardian Health and Social Services staff would be on-hand to assist.

There were also close to 50 cots set up for those needing a bed, though as manager of Health and Social Services’ emergency management unit John Coyne said, the cots are the “last resort we have in our toolkit” for accommodations.

Ideally, residents would have their own plan, including a place to stay. Then it would simply be a matter for the evacuee registering at the reception centre.

“Evacuees are encouraged to have their own plan in place,” Coyne said.

He stressed the importance of having a 72-hour emergency kit prepared which includes things like water, food, a manual can opener, wind-up or battery-powered flashlight and radio, first aid kit, cash, and family documents among others.

When evacuees are without a place to stay, staff at the reception centre are there to help, with the cots as a last option.

Coyne said the exercise meant training for approximately 80 Health and Social Services staff over the full 10 days , with 26 of those working at the reception centre.

“The team is excellent and very well-trained,” he said, highlighting the opportunity Nanook presents to ensure the territory is prepared for emergencies.

Yukon fire marshal James Paterson was at the Whitehorse Cadet Camp May 31 when he and about a dozen other members of the Special Operations Medical Extraction Team (SOMET) were on hand for training with the military.

As Cpt. Robert Beal explained, that particular exercise was aimed at familiarizing SOMET members with the helicopter that the military would bring should there be a situation needing response.

By allowing the SOMET crew to explore the aircraft and practise proceeding on and off the helicopter, asking questions as they go, there’s a greater likelihood the process will run quickly and smoothly in the event of an actual emergency, he said. SOMET members will know then exactly where they should be to get on the helicopter and how to do that quickly.

After a couple of dry runs onto the helicopter, the military crew fired up the propellers with the SOMET crew making their way to the aircraft when signalled, as they had practiced, and flew away for a short familiarization flight.

Ahead of the wildfire scenario playing out, a number of similar training opportunities and exercises were available to both city and wildland firefighters with exercises that saw fire smarting work, property assessments for fire risk and more.

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis was on-hand for many of the Nanook activities, observing the work of military and local government bodies in dealing with the imagined wildfire.

“Our staff has been training all week,” he said in an interview June 6, adding it has helped identify gaps in the system as well as highlight what works.

Among those gaps that need followup, Curtis pointed to the process for the mayor to declare an emergency, which is needed to prompt a response from the federal government. An emergency council meeting where quorum of four members must be met is required for the declaration and that can take time to organize. Curtis said officials will be looking at the bylaw to determine if there is a more efficient way to declare an emergency.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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