Winnipeg practice air quality emergency drill

Yesterday, the City of Winnipeg hosted Exercise AIR Aware, a daylong exercise simulating what could happen in the event of an air quality emergency.

The City’s Emergency Social Services team, Canadian Red Cross and other agencies, including the Salvation Army and St. John Ambulance, were all involved, setting up a mock Clean Air Centre at Sergeant Tommy Prince Place.

The City has not opened a clean air space in recent history, but  may need to do so in the near future, as the number of wildfires and smoke hours across Canada increases. 

2023 saw an unprecedented wildfire season with more than 45.7 million acres of land scorched, nearly three times higher than Canada’s previous record of 17.5 million acres which burned in 1995.

The City is required to conduct regular exercises in accordance with The Emergency Measures Act. These allow the City and partner agencies to work together practicing the set-up and delivery of support services in a mock Clean Air Centre. Services such as meet and greet, registration and inquiry, health assessment, and food service are simulated through the use of volunteers acting as Winnipeg residents.

Around 100 volunteers took part, arriving at the ‘Clean Air Centre’ throughout the day to receive support. Those taking part were given a variety of roles to play, presenting the team at the centre with unpredictable situations such as a medical issue or a situation involving children.

Speaking to the Winnipeg Sun, Mike Olczyk, the City’s Emergency Management Coordinator said: ‘The key thing for us is that this is an exercise, a mock simulation. That way if we ever had to do this we would learn some lessons from today and adapt those in the event that we actually do open a clean air centre in a poor air quality event.

‘Part of the exercise today is to learn in a simulated environment when it’s not real time so that we can get those lessons learned, those pieces that we can take away that we can improve upon if we ever have to implement one. That’s part of the key learning from today.’

Shawn Feely, Canadian Red Cross Vice-President for Manitoba and Nunavut said: ‘Red Cross has experience in setting up shelters, setting up reception centres, this is part of what we do. The difference here is the public authority in this case the City of Winnipeg wanted to test a few of their systems out around air quality. The Red Cross has assets and experience working in these areas but this specifically is supporting the City of Winnipeg.

‘It’s good to have our volunteers and staff working together with other partners. It’s a good starting point for this season. Some people are saying the season is longer and longer and in our case there really is no such thing as a response season anymore. It just keep on rolling into one another. In a nut shell, it’s a good exercise for the Red Cross to test our systems but also working with other organizations and levels of government.’

AccuWeather are predicting that The Canadian wildfire season will be ‘near to above average’ overall in terms of the number of fires and ‘well above average’ in terms of the acreage burned. That said, they don’t expect the fires to be as bad as last year. 


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