AMHERST – The train shouldn’t have jumped the rails. But it did. Two engines, more than 20 cars. Bad news. The really bad news, though, was the tank car filled with chlorine. The railway accident occurred just outside Amherst. If the tank car was compromised, if the chlorine turned into gas, the whole town would need to be evacuated.
This fictional scenario – as in, it hasn’t happen and hopefully never will – is the sort of situation Jim Hannon plans for.
“We are the gateway to Nova Scotia (and Newfoundland),” said the retired RCMP officer and emergency management coordinator for Cumberland Regional Emergency Management.
Of course, transportation threats are just one of many. Flooding and hurricanes, forest fires and pandemics are all things that need to be on his radar.
His office at the county’s municipal building doesn’t have a giant glass case full of machine guns and hand grenades, and there’s no armoured Humvee in the parking lot. This is real emergency management, not the movies. But he has radios set up to ensure communications are never down, plus a shelf of Pelican ‘go’ cases (like a ‘go bag’, which is a collection of vital survival supplies a person can grab as they’re on their way out the door in an emergency).
“I feel that…money is best spent in having people trained and educated for protecting themselves and their communities,” said Hannon.
The point he was making was that knowledge is more valuable than equipment. He stressed that the biggest burden on first responders in a crisis is helping people who haven’t taken steps to be able to help themselves.
He repeated the mantra most of us have heard by now: you should be able to sustain yourself and your family for 72 hours.
Hannon said 90 per cent of the emergency supplies you need are probably already in your house. And he said there’s a difference between an urban or rural populations ability to sustain itself.
“We take emergency preparation a lot more seriously in rural areas,” he said.
Hannon feels community ties are stronger in less populated areas, and people are more likely to have family nearby. He said we have more local produce and more homes heated with firewood.
The coordinator expressed confidence in the resources at his disposal. He said he’s just a single phone call away from a provincial EMO official who has the ear of people who can make decisions.
“Communications is key,” he said.
He gave troop deployment for a domestic crisis as an example. He said in the last 10 years, the delay before the ball is rolling has gone from days to hours.
“That’s how far we’ve advanced…,” said the coordinator.
As for our hypothetical chlorine spill, Hannon said we have the resources in place to combat it.
“We have in our midst, here, the Amherst HazMat response team,” he said.
The county also has a deal in place to draw on the resources of a more advanced and heavily equipped team out of Bible Hill.
SIDEBAR: The county has a regional agreement to provide emergency planning for Oxford, Springhill and Parrsboro. There is talk of Amherst joining as well, but Hannon called that a political decision.