Rough weather robbed locals of any chance to see it, but a Canadian Armed Forces aircraft flew over the West Coast on Wednesday as part of an emergency communication drill titled Exercise Sweeper.
Tofino and Ucluelet’s Emergency Operations Centres participated in the Island-wide drill that involved playing out a mock scenario where a 6.9 earthquake had hit about 50 km north of Campbell River.
Ucluelet’s Emergency Operations Centre made its initial call out to Victoria’s Provincial Regional Emergency Operation Centre at 10 a.m. for an initial impact assessment.
“It’s letting the PREOC know that we have RCMP, Ucluelet Fire [Brigade], West Coast Inland Search and Rescue and the District of Ucluelet Public Works on standby, with their apparatuses, ready to go to conduct rapid damage assessments for the community,” Ucluelet’s Emergency and Environmental Services Manager Karla Robison told her EOC team immediately after the call out.
Robison added that responders would also assess transportation routes.
A Canadian Armed Forces aircraft, an aurora dubbed ‘Demon 20,’ had scheduled a low fly-over at Amphitrite Point and, while that fly-over was cancelled, the plane did fly high over both Tofino and Ucluelet around 10:30 a.m. so the EOC’s could practice relaying messages to the PREOC and surrounding communities.
Through relays between the plane and Tofino, Ucluelet learned both Highway 4 and the Pacific Rim Highway remained open and that the Tofino General Hospital was able to accept anyone injured.
Ucluelet also advised communities more heavily affected by the earthquake that resources, like medical supplies and emergency equipment, could be sent from Ucluelet by float planes or marine vessels.
Excercise Sweeper also incorporated local Amateur Radio Operators in Tofino and Ucluelet who practiced sending messages to the PREOC as well as neighbouring communities. Parksville served as the radio operators’ hub, collecting situational reports and passing them on to Victoria, Robison said.
Robison told the Westerly News during the event that smoothing out communication strategies between EOCs, first responders, neighbouring communities and the provincial government, is vital to ensuring successful emergency response in any actual incidents.
“It’s really important to practice these exercises and go through these drills because, the more we do, the more we’re prepared for an emergency; particularly when it comes to communication,” she said.
“If those systems and those messages are being passed smoothly, then the response and support for an emergency event will only come off that much better and it could potentially come down to saving lives and critical infrastructure.”
She added having a robust communications toolbox is key and noted the exercise included exchanges over landline, cell phone, VHF radio, HF radio, email and a mobile satellite phone.
“Being able to practice all those communication methods and communicating with our neighbours and the provincial government will allow for a more robust emergency plan if we are actually faced with a real event,” she said.
Municipal councillor Randy Oliwa has been a member of Ucluelet’s EOC team since 2008 and told the Westerly the drill was a valuable skill-builder.
“We’re doing a lot of communications here today and we don’t get a lot of experience and exposure to that, so this is a great opportunity for us,” he said. “It really is important for Ucluelet because we have the technology. We’ve been training for years to be prepared as a community and this is a great opportunity to showcase what we have and build on our general skills and our knowledge.”