The historic flooding that ravaged Hay River last year left a huge mark that can still be seen in some places.

With those memories still fresh in some minds, everyone with a stake in protecting both life and property got together earlier this month to go over what to do should a similar emergency occur this year.

The Hay River Community Emergency Management Committee held a flood exercise — a sort of dry run — on the afternoon of April 4. There were representatives from the town, K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN), West Point First Nation, Hay River Metis Government, Northland Utilities, Stittco Utilities and the RCMP, among others.

The idea behind the exercise was to go through three possible scenarios that could happen in the event flooding occurs this year.

Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer, said the most impactful scenario included a repeat of what happened in 2022.

“A community-wide flood inundation, a mass evacuation of the community, rescues, loss of life, and recovery to public and private property and infrastructure,” he said.

During each of the scenarios, Travis Wright, the town’s director of protective services and emergency operations co-ordinator, would stop at certain spots to see how members of the committee would respond at that point in time; each member of the committee has a pre-determined role in any emergency situation that would arise.

Smith said those on the committee were well-prepared and understood their roles during the two-hour exercise.

He also feels the town is ready for whatever happens this year.

“Although recovery has been the focus of governments and residents since last spring, there has been continuous activity through debriefing and lessons learned to adjusting response and preparedness procedures, and testing those response procedures ahead of 2023,” he said. “While 2022 may have been a perfect storm of events leading to flooding, we have prepared ourselves as best we can for any recurrence.”

One thing Smith said the town has changed for this year is shifting preparedness from smaller areas previously defined as flood zones, such as Vale Island, to the area as a whole.

“This includes the release of updated flood risk area maps, circulation communication to all of the community, adjusting procedures for a mass evacuation and increasing our flood monitoring network and resources,” he said.

There were some questions that arose during the exercises, such as what to do if the Hay River Merlyn Carter Airport became compromised and patients from the hospital couldn’t be transported out of harm’s way. Erin Griffiths, CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, raised that issue.

In response, Allen Schaefer with the GNWT Department of Infrastructure, said the gravel strip at the airport was open last year and he hoped it would be open again this year in case it was needed.

Failing that, he said driving to Fort Providence, which takes close to two hours if the speed limit is observed, to access air transportation is an option.

Wright added that a shuttle to Fort Providence would be arranged by the town, if necessary.

Smith asked Mark Harris from the Hay River District Education Authority about plans if an evacuation order was given during a school day.

Harris responded that it would depend on what level of alerts were issued at the time, but schools could be closed at least 24 to 48 hours before any planned evacuation announcement was set to be made.

He also said school buses could be used for a full evacuation.

Smith said the town will be keeping a close eye on changes to the Hay River basin as river levels are beginning to increase and some tributaries are starting to melt.

That suggests break-up in Alberta could be happening this week, he said.

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