Assessing risks in and around Virden, putting key people in place and setting a budget, these are the pieces the Westman Emergency Group (WEG) co-ordinators are working through this December.
Recently, the co-ordinators received preliminary training from Shelly Napier of Napier Emergency Consulting. Napier has vast experience, having participated in emergency response to major fire evacuations, the ’97 flood, the 2007 Elie F5 tornado, the 2011 and 2014 floods and more.
Matt Hipwell, one of two coordinators heading the WEG, wants residents of Virden and the RM of Wallace-Woodworth to know that while it is a work in progress, the WEG is functional.
“If something happened tomorrow, we would be calling certain individuals whom we know have a skill set to help us deal with the situation,” he said.
In winter, the most common scenario is a highway closure.
“If we have to close the road tomorrow I can work my way through it,” says Hipwell, a former RCMP officer. “But now, we start expanding our resources to deal with other incidents.”
In regards to winter travel, Hipwell says more education is needed. It may seem like common sense, but even people who earn their living trucking down the highway aren’t always prepared for an overnight stay in their vehicles.
“When you travel, have the appropriate clothing.”
CLOSED HIGHWAY PROTOCOL
When traffic is moving slowly or is stopped at a highway barricade, some drivers may think their vehicle can get through, and they pull out in the passing lane, only to find there’s no where to go.
“One of the things I want to work with,” says Hipwell, “on a road closure you have the shoulder, the driving lane and passing lane. Truck drivers and passenger vehicles need to realize they cannot fill all three lanes.
“They MUST leave a lane open. If they don’t leave a lane open, they can’t get the help they need.”
Snow ploughs, ambulance, hydro crews, hazmat teams or RCMP need to have access to the highway at all times. In some cases, this is to check on the well-being of people who may be stranded and need medical help.
A recent power-outage with heavy frost loads on hydro lines could have been much worse, but temperatures were moderate.
“I look back to Dec. 4,” says Hipwell. “There were businesses without power for eight hours. On the Sunday before we had residents on the other side of the valley without power for 12 – 14 hours.
“Who can survive 48 hours with no heat at -20C? Who can handle that in their house today?” he askes.
“How many homes are set up with back-up generators… can they run their furnace with it?”
In Virden, the town has back-up systems in place for water and sewer services if electrical power goes down. Generators for the valley well, the water treatment plant and the wastewater plant, along with some of the lift stations will keep those services working.
The Water tower has a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) that will last for approximately two hours. If the power is out longer than that, the operations staff can switch the distribution system to flow control mode until the power is restored.
For the future, a back-up generator has been purchased for TO&GP to ensure that the facility will have heat, lights and even be able to keep one compressor (ice plant) running in a power outage.
Town of Virden CAO Rhonda Stewart explains, “We have just received the estimate for wiring, which will be taken to the planning and finance committee meeting in January as Council will need to budget for this work, as well as the cement pad for the generator to be placed on. The project is steadily moving forward.”
In the New Year, WEG will contact former volunteers and seek people for needed skill areas such as in the medical field.
“We want to use everyone’s strengths to the best advantage,” said Hipwell.