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A lesson in flood preparedness

By Celina Ip


The County of Renfrew has been taught a German lesson in emergency flood preparedness.


Almost one year after the disastrous flooding of the Ottawa River, Renfrew County is preparing for the future with help from a German disaster-relief agency.

On Feb. 26 at the Kiwanis Field House, the County of Renfrew Emergency Services Department in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), and the German Technisches Hilfswerk (THW) – a German disaster-relief agency – hosted a flood preparedness training session for more than 40 local municipal staff and leaders.

“We've invited the County of Renfrew staff as well as local municipal staff that range from emergency managers to public works staff through to firefighters and paramedics. As well, we’ve welcomed staff from the City of Ottawa and from the County of Prescott and Russell as they were also affected by the Ottawa River flooding,” said Michael Nolan, director of emergency services with the County of Renfrew. “If you think of the Ottawa River experience of last year, those were the main municipalities that were involved so we've been working on our planning leading up to this year and today is a great example of us working shoulder-to-shoulder. So I feel proud that these folks have come out today to better engage their communities and provide enhancement over last year's experience.”

In terms of the THW, Nolan said that they reached out to the German disaster-relief agency as they are recognized all over the world as being leaders in civil defence and in being able to provide technical relief in times of disaster.

“It's clear to us that they not only have the experience but they’ve learned over the years – since they were formed in 1950 – how to become a world leader in technical requirements for disasters,” said Nolan.

Including both lecture-based and interactive live demonstrations, the day-long training session served to prepare the municipal participants to be able to instruct and support their residents through any future flooding incidents.

As they rotated through the various stations, the participants learned how to properly communicate and coordinate field activities in case of announced floods, advanced preparedness, building sandbagging stations, how to construct sandbag walls, and high volume pumping techniques.

“My colleagues and volunteers they delivered presentations about what is flooding and how flooding occurs, how sandbags have to be filled correctly and how to lay them down,” said Klaus Buchmuller of THW. “The people from public service know how to do this but they need to have strategies to organize and guide volunteers in how to best go about doing this.”

By the end of the day, the municipal staff and leaders had gained new knowledge and expertise with regards to improving local flood intervention plans and mitigating the impacts of flooding on residents.

“Klaus' people are here today to help our municipal staff to become instructors for individual property owners and those that spontaneously volunteer so that we can make sure that their efforts are not in vain and that the construction and the materials that are being used are the right ones at the right time to be able to protect critical infrastructure and homes,” said Nolan.

On behalf of the THW, Buchmuller expressed that the hope is that by sharing their knowledge and experience, they can help the County of Renfrew to prepare for and reduce flooding damage in the future.

“We are cooperating together to find out how we can use the best practices we've managed with volunteers in Germany and in Europe and how we can adapt those practices here with this system in Canada,” said Buchmuller.

Nolan agreed that the County of Renfrew will be adopting THW’s emergency-relief model that focuses on being relentlessly efficient and organized, so that when the county finds themselves face-to-face with another big disaster, they’ll be ready.

“We chose the THW because they not only have the knowledge, skills and abilities but I think that they also have a system that we need to learn from in Canada. Germany has chosen to pre-train their volunteers and to have them equipped with the health and safety gear that they need and the procedures that they need to be flexible in their response,” said Nolan. “So I think the THW is a perfect model from which Canada can learn and we’ll definitely be looking to implement the teachings and strategies that they shared with us today.” 

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