Alberta,
05
July
2016

Dispatches from the Fort McMurray Wildfires: “You Do Whatever it Takes”

The AER is accustomed to responding to emergencies such as well blowouts and pipeline spills. But sometimes we’re called upon to intervene during natural disasters, as was the case with the recent wildfires in Fort McMurray. This is just one story of how the AER has supported Alberta’s efforts to respond to the blaze that recently ravaged the area.

Reporting from her office for the first time in weeks, Maria Skog is having the first taste of a normal routine.

As an enforcement and surveillance manager in Edmonton, Skog has worked out of the provincial operations centre (POC) from the moment the wildfires broke out near Fort McMurray in early May. She has been serving that team as a backup consequence management officer (CMO).

Acting as a conduit for information between industry partners, the Government of Alberta, and the regional emergency operations centre (REOC), the POC streamlines communication and supplies information to ensure that the best decisions are made regarding critical infrastructure and employee safety. The POC also discusses recovery planning and ensures that messaging remains consistent and credible.

Skog’s responsibilities as CMO included receiving, coordinating, and providing information to industry about employee safety and infrastructure, all while helping the team support the POC and REOC.

“During a crisis, your job out there is pretty much anything and everything,” she said. “You’re taking on incident command system structures, but you still have to be a little bit flexible and take on things outside of your role. Really, you do whatever it takes.”

Days started as early as 6:30 a.m. at the POC. Skog and her AER colleagues attended briefings by other ministries and government agencies; the AER hosted two briefings a day for industry.

“Some days are more exhausting than others, but it’s satisfying when you know you’re making a difference and facilitating the conversations that need to occur. As tired as we might be, it’s nothing compared to what others are going through.”

The AER brought in the mobile incident command trailer, a 28-foot long trailer that allows AER employees to be on site during an emergency while maintaining the capacity to respond. It was filled with AER employees from across Alberta to help support the POC’s efforts.

The POC also had industry liaisons from Fort McMurray supporting its efforts.

“AER staff worked alongside people who didn’t know what they would come home to but who made the sacrifice of showing up to help. The entire operation is a real team effort.

“We know we have talent in the organization, but it was exciting to see it firsthand. There were so many people who stepped up to the plate to contribute—people who play a different role in the office who were enthusiastic and really shined.”

While she had only been to Fort McMurray once before, Skog hopes to visit the area she has come to know more about through maps and photos when the focus turns towards re-entry. For now, she’s glad that the emergency phase is over and grateful that people were evacuated safely and quickly from the area.

“I hope everybody who walks away from this takes away the sense that there was so much good done to support the situation.”

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photo:Natalie  Brodych
Natalie Brodych
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