From East to West: walking the talk on emergency preparedness

We’ve written a lot about emergency preparedness on the blog this year and with good reason. It is one of the most important elements of emergency management. In 2017 alone, CEPA members held 542 emergency response exercises.

To demonstrate it’s more than just talk, we sat down with the emergency management teams for two of our member companies, Trans Mountain and Trans-Northern Pipelines, who both conducted full-scale deployment emergency response exercises recently. This type of exercise is designed to evaluate the coordination of response in a realistic emergency scenario.

Trans Mountain exercise

The Trans Mountain exercise, which took a year to plan, was held in September at the company’s Westridge Marine Terminal located in Burrard Inlet in Burnaby, British Columbia. The day included more than 300 participants/observers including first responders, federal and provincial agencies and regulators, local Indigenous communities, municipalities and response contractors.

The full-scale exercise simulated a worst-case scenario associated with a pipeline valve malfunction. The response consisted of marine and shoreline deployment and the establishment of an Incident Command Post. One of the unique factors in this exercise was the testing of Trans Mountain’s new submerged and sunken oil plan, which details how the company would respond in the unlikely event that an oil spill occurs in water.

Trans-Northern Pipelines exercise

After months of planning, Trans-Northern Pipelines and the city of St. Eustache, Quebec, held a two-day, full-scale exercise in early November. Not only was the exercise designed to practice Trans-Northern’s emergency response plans, it also tested a new multi-jurisdictional reference framework for pipeline intervention. With four bilingual teams made up of 200 people spread across four different locations, the exercise was centred on a hazardous materials incident in an urban area.

Like all full-scale exercises, this event included participants from all three levels of government, local Indigenous communities, regional stakeholders, industry partners and response contractors.

Importance of emergency response exercises

While planning and managing the logistics of such a large event is inevitably one of the most difficult parts of the process, the learnings always outweigh the challenges.

“Our emergency response plans need to be more than just a nice book on the shelf,” says Alain Boulanger, Manager, Health, Safety, Security, Environment & Emergency Management at Trans-Northern Pipelines. “We need to test and validate our plans and incorporate learnings to ensure we can respond if an incident happens.”

According to Jamie Kereliuk, Director of Emergency Management at Trans Mountain, training exercises are the foundation of emergency response.

“The more time and effort you invest up front, the better off you will be. These exercises are an opportunity to practice an integrated response with all of our stakeholders, so we are better prepared to work together.”

Key takeaways

For the Trans-Northern Pipeline team, one of the key learnings was having enough dedicated resources and people to manage both the company response location and the government response location. Response personnel need to be able to work well together to make decisions and support each other especially if the emergency lasts an extended period.

Both organizations noted the importance of working with all impacted stakeholders and integrating the knowledge of Indigenous peoples into emergency response planning.

“We approach emergency response from a community mindset,” says Alain. “It’s critical that we work with all levels of government, first responders, community stakeholders and Indigenous peoples to ensure we all know our roles and have a comprehensive plan in the event of an actual emergency.”

Always improving

While Canadians should feel confident that CEPA members have comprehensive, tested emergency management plans in place, there are always things we can do to improve.

“Especially during a complex incident, we need to do a better job as an industry of sharing resources, information and control points by exercising our Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement,” says Alain. This agreement means any CEPA member can request resources and support from other CEPA members during an emergency.

“The age of social media has changed how we communicate during an emergency,” says Jamie. “We can’t just wait for the next news cycle to let people know about an incident. We need to provide timely and accurate information to get ahead of potential misinformation that can spread quickly online.”

If you are interested in learning how the industry is working together on emergency response, check out these blogs: