Emergency Disaster Services Exercise in Winnipeg

by kristinm
Categories: Blog, Newswire

    Last week, the City of Winnipeg, along with the Red Cross, Shared Health, St. John Ambulance, The Salvation Army, and other organizations, participated in the city’s first clean air exercise, AIR Aware. The simulation gauged how prepared the city is in the case of an air quality emergency.

    2023 was Canada’s worst wildfire season on record, and many organizations, including The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS), are bracing for another severe season due to an abnormally dry winter. As wildfires and winds bring smoke from fires throughout the western provinces, persons susceptible to air quality hazards, including heart conditions, lung conditions, and asthma, may need specialized care.

    “Given the dryness of the conditions through winter in a lot of areas across western Canada, as we’re hearing from our hazard experts, there is the potential for a busy wildfire season,” says Winnipeg’s emergency management coordinator, Mike Olczyk.

    “There’s really no such thing as a response season anymore; it just keeps on rolling into one another,” says Shawn Feely, Canadian Red Cross vice president for Manitoba and Nunavut.

    The exercise was set up at Sergeant Tommy Prince Place, a recreation centre in northwest Winnipeg, that could be used in the event of an actual air quality emergency. Three waves of 100 volunteers came through the doors and each was given a scenario to act out to test how well the participating organizations could address issues and support those needing care. Volunteers were given background information on health conditions and other factors that determined how the staff should respond.

    The exercise featured a first-aid station run by Shared Health, a multicultural and quiet room for participants who required language services or other accommodations, a therapy dog provided by St. John Ambulance, and a snack and meal area provided by The Salvation Army EDS team.

    WATCH: Winnipeg hosts simulated air-quality emergency ahead of wildfire season – Winnipeg | Globalnews.ca

    To prepare for the event, EDS volunteers made 175 sandwiches accounting for various dietary restrictions, including gluten sensitivity, vegan, vegetarian, and halal. The team also prepared three kinds of homemade soup and provided hot beverages, water, juice, fresh fruit, and a variety of snacks. All of the dishes, cutlery, and napkins used in EDS service were compostable to ensure a limited environmental impact.

    “A man came up to me after the event and said he was blown away by the quality of the food we were serving and how much he appreciated the homemade touch. Going the extra mile is always worth it to bring dignity and inclusivity to those that we serve,” says Debbie Clarke, EDS specialist for Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

    In the event of a real emergency, the city could potentially open several recreational facilities throughout the day and into the evening, depending on the severity and the need. The criteria for when a centre would be opened are still being determined but would likely be related to Environment Canada’s air quality index.

    To learn more about the air quality health index or how wildfire smoke can affect your health, visit Air Quality Health Index – Canada.ca or Wildfire smoke 101: Wildfire smoke and your health – Canada.ca

    Read More: Clean air centre simulation gives City of Winnipeg staff practice ahead of smoky wildfire season | CBC News