The last time Keith Austin sat in on an emergency planning exercise, everybody died. That’s kind of the point of the type of meeting Austin took part in on Jan. 25.
He was one of roughly 30 people gathered in the Faro Recreation Centre that day, including Faro recreation staff, town councillors, representatives from Yukon Energy and staff of Parsons Corporation, which manages Faro Mine remediation in the community.
Together, they ran through a hypothetical scenario presented by Cody Goulin, an emergency management planner with Yukon’s emergency measures organization (EMO).
“Today’s just about learning,” Goulin told the room at the beginning of the exercise. “And improving that emergency plan that most of you have in front of you.”
Goulin was referring to Faro’s new community emergency management plan. It was approved in the spring of 2022, after having gone a few years without updates.
Those updates were among the first things Larry Baran wanted to address when he took on the role of chief administrative officer (CAO) in Faro in January of 2022.
Before moving to the Yukon, Baran spent 10 years developing emergency plans in the Northwest Territories, so contingencies have long been a priority for him. Baran told the News he was happy to find, when he suggested this year’s tabletop emergency exercise, the community was in full support.
“I think people realize that after so many years of calmness, if you want to call it that, the last few years have been really disturbing,” Barran told the News on Jan. 30. “Teslin nearly flooded and you had flooding throughout the Yukon. At the same time, you’ve had severe landslides toward Dawson and wildfires that have forced the evacuation of communities. There’s lots of natural things happening right now that we have to be better prepared for.”
One of those was the hypothetical introduced by Goulin.
Over the course of the afternoon, he talked participants through a three-stage emergency based on a July wildfire leading to the closure of the Robert Campbell Highway. Stage one of the emergency involved the Little Salmon campground being evacuated to Faro; stage two introduced a decrease in Faro’s air quality due to wildfire smoke; and stage three saw Faro being evacuated to Ross River.
Almost immediately, gaps were identified that day.
“If [the fire] did happen a few days earlier than the day you picked, that would have been the golf tournament,” said Tina Freake, Faro’s recreation manager. With an extra 200 people in the community, the local campground would have been full, leaving no space for evacuees in tents and RVs.
Identifying alternative green space, and options for food, water and gas in such a situation is now one of the 17 things on the list of issues that were discovered during the activity.
There are also questions around where helicopters would land in the event the Faro airstrip is smoked out, arranging air quality zones in the recreation centre for those with breathing issues and developing closer lines of communication with Yukon Energy.
Throughout, Goulin called into a simultaneous tabletop taking place with EMO in Whitehorse that was focused on the same scenario.
“It’s more realistic,” said Julia Duchesne, a senior communications advisor with Community Services. She spoke with the News on Feb. 1, saying tandem exercises help both communities and Yukon EMO to understand what community needs are, and what EMO can provide.
She said EMO contacts communities in the off-season to see if they’d like any emergency training, and that opportunities are available at their request.
This past offseason, Duchesne said EMO has done emergency planning in three locations with six different levels of government.
She said EMO has noticed an uptick in requests in recent years.
“When you see climate impacts, natural disasters impacting in your community or in communities nearby, it’s a great reminder that it’s better to make that plan and ensure that all your response partners are on board and talking to each other in advance,” she said.
For example, Baran told the News that he only found out during the Faro session that if fires threaten lines between Carmacks and Faro, Faro’s energy needs would have to be met by Ross River.
“We have generators here but the way they cycle we would be supported out of Ross River first,” he said.
Because of that, he’s going to arrange meetings with Ross River and Yukon Energy.
“We want to give people here a comfort level there is a plan in place and we can coordinate with one another.”
Dushcesne said there was a debrief the day after the exercise, between Goulin and Faro staff. It’s best to go over gaps when the information is fresh in their heads, she said.
From Goulin’s perspective, the exercise went well. A week after the exercise, he told the News it was good to see so many participants from various sectors.
“There was a lot of great discussion and input from everyone involved to help inform and update the town emergency plan,” he said.
Duchesne reminded Yukoners to visit preparedyukon.ca for information about emergency kit lists.
Contact Amy Kenny at email@example.com