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PHSA participates in BC’s largest emergency response exercise

Ambulance parked outside of the Mobile Medical Unit
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​It was four days of history in the making as several PHSA teams participated in BC's first full-scale earthquake and tsunami exercise. ​

Organized by the Government of British Columbia, Exercise Coastal Response took place from June 7-10 and was premised on a simulated 9.0 magnitude and tsunami off the BC coast. The exercise was based mainly in Port Alberni where the simulated tsunami had hit hardest, with other areas across the province participating including Ucluelet, Victoria and the Lower Mainland.

More than 60 private and public agencies worked together to exercise elements of the BC Earthquake Immediate Response Plan and strengthen relationships among and across partners. By collaborating to put preparedness into practice and identify opportunities for improvement in terms of emergency response, the exercise enabled agencies to better prepare for a real seismic event.

PHSA agencies that participated in the Health Sector committee included Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC), along with their Disaster Psychosocial Program (DPS), BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), and the Mobile Medical Unit (MMU).

Working alongside the BC Ministry of Health, Island Health, First Nations Health Authority, BC Coroners Service,  and Public Health Agency of Canada, the Health Sector committee members sought to manage the surge of patients impacted by the simulated disaster, provide support to the community, and test provincial-level health response systems and processes.

During the exercise, the Ministry of Health's Health Emergency Coordination Centre (HECC) was activated at the provincial level, and locally, each agency worked with various stakeholders to test their own systems and objectives, some of which included:

  • HEMBC in Island Health conducted multi-site incident command/Emergency Operation Centre drills to test communications and processes
  • Mass casualty exercises took place on June 7 and 9 along with decontamination drills on June 8 and 10 at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni.
  • BCEHS activated three levels of response: site level in Ucluelet to integrate triage response for mass casualty with local first responders, the Coast Guard and 442 Squadron (military); a District Operations Centre in Parksville to provide situational awareness and test the mobile communications centre; and Provincial Emergency Operations Centre in Victoria to participate in government inter-agency coordination with Health and Public Safety, initiate corporate recovery planning and test BCEHS business continuity issues.
  • EHS also exercised scene response where paramedics undertook mass casualty triage scenarios in collaboration with MMU, Heavy Urban Search and Rescue, and BC Coroners Service. The business continuity plan for Port Alberni station was tested, which rests in the tsunami zone.  
  • DPS exercised deploying volunteers to support reception and group lodging centres as well as family members of patients in the MMU.
  • In the MMU, a team of medical directors, educators, paramedics and nurses worked alongside Island Health clinician nurse and physician volunteers, who orientated to the MMU and participated in the exercise. Several high-fidelity simulation mannequins were provided by Island Health's Centre for Interprofessional Clinical Simulation Learning and programmed to reflect various injuries that clinicians could practice trauma assessment and treatment skills on. In total, 74 mock patients were 'treated' on scene and in the unit throughout the day on June 8 including 28 critical.
  • The MMU also tested the official activation process for an emergency deployment, activated its own Incident Command System, and requested materials, pharmaceuticals, and medical consumables supplies through both BCCSS supply chain and the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre.
  • During the exercise, Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto, along with a number of other dignitaries, toured "ground zero" in Port Alberni to meet with teams and discuss the importance of emergency preparedness.

Early reports indicate the testing of these functions of the BC Earthquake Immediate Response Plan was a success. Collaboration among the various agencies was effective, and the interoperability with emergency response partners was well practiced. Most importantly, and fulfilling the intent of the exercise, lessons were learned in a collaborative training environment before a catastrophic emergency occurs.

PHSA would like to thank the Government of BC for their leadership in coordinating this exercise – it was a very valuable experience for all of our teams involved.

Visit the Government of BC's website for more information and photos on the exercise.

For more information about personal preparedness and emergency kits, visit Get Prepared BC




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