Two reports commissioned by the Government of Alberta to look into the province’s response to the Horse River Wildfire suggest there were gaps in communication and preparedness.
On Thursday, the province released the independent reviews done by MNP and KPMG.
The KPMG report focused more on “the knowledge, experience, and insights of those directly involved.” It notes on May 3, there were mixed messages given to the residents.
During a press conference, residents were told to be “prepared to act on short notice.” However, to instill calm, residents were also told to “get on with their lives and take their kids to school.” the report said.
Just a few hours later a mandatory evacuation was issued for the entire municipality.
It also suggests both the province and RMWB weren’t prepared to fight a fire of that size.
“Local and provincial emergency management programs had never tested their plans, resources, and protocols in the context of a wildland-urban interface fire of this size, scope, speed, complexity, and ferocity,” the report found.
However, the report also suggests the province did integrate lessons from past disasters which did have a positive impact on the actions taken.
This included the launching of the Alberta First Responder Radio Communications System and the implementation of the Alberta Emergency Alert System.
The radio communication system was supposed to be operational in July 2016 but was pushed forward to help with the Fort McMurray wildfire.
KPMG is highlighting 21 recommendations for the province to follow to better help fight future disasters. A part of the requests is enhancing investment in public awareness and engagement initiatives for emergency preparedness, develop a provincial emergency evacuation framework and evacuation model, and invest and develop a state of the art provincial operations centre facility.
As for the MNG report, they suggest “Alberta Agriculture and Forestry recognized that the early wildfire hazard was very high and took appropriate measures to be prepared earlier than usual,” the report said.
This report focused on reviewing the environmental conditions leading up while evaluating readiness, preparedness, and response.
MNP says wildfire managers were aware of the potential for severe conditions and recognized that the 2016 fire season could begin very early with extreme conditions from the onset. “As a result, resources for the season were readied with these pre-season conditions in mind,” the report said.
On May 3, the report notes wildfire managers were attempting to confirm wildfire escape predictions at the same time things were quickly changing in the field. Although there was information available in the system that information was not completely available to all decision-makers. The report notes in some cases, maps and updates flowed through email or telephone conversations to senior managers, and the staff working on forecasts did not have the latest situation update.
MNP offered 10 recommendations in its 87-page report, including continue Agriculture and Forestry’s strategic direction to be fully prepared and ready to respond to wildfires the week after snow disappears or May 1 annually, whichever date is expected sooner and establish a joint Wildfire Planning Task Team comprised of senior Agriculture and Forestry staff and major industrial stakeholders (such as oil sands, energy, forestry, and utility companies) from across Alberta.
Province to take action on recommendations
The Government of Alberta announced on Thursday its taking action on the 31 recommendations outlined in the two reports.
The province says implementing the recommendations will build on their emergency response capabilities and actions that have already been taken including, $45 million in FireSmart program funding and a new $125 million investment in a new state of the art Provincial Operations Centre.
“While the report recognizes the many things the province did right, it also points to areas we can improve. We are committed to implementing all of the recommendations. Through continuous improvement of Alberta’s emergency response system, the Government of Alberta will be better prepared for future emergencies,” Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister responsible for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said in a release.
Meanwhile, just last week Leader of the Wildrose and official opposition Brian Jean called on the province to create an independent judge led public inquiry, as opposed to a review or report. He reaffirmed his position on this on social media Thursday after the two reports were released.
— Brian Jean (@BrianJeanWRP) June 8, 2017
The RMWB also announced a week ago they’ve contracted KPMG to conduct an independent review of the regional-level wildfire response and recovery.
As part of the review, residents and business owners can take part in surveys regarding access to various recovery supports and the effectiveness of them.
The municipality notes this is intended to build on the province’s review which includes data collected from more than 5,000 residents by KPMG on behalf of the GOA.
The surveys will be open until June 30 and are available at rmwb.ca/wildfirereview.
– With files from Elizabeth Priest