2016 Horse River wildfire reviews

The independent reviews examined the provincial response to the Wood Buffalo wildfire.

The Government of Alberta released 2 reports it commissioned on the Wood Buffalo wildfire. The reviews examined the government’s support for the prevention, preparedness, response, stabilization and recovery around the wildfire. They were led by KPMG and MNP and are standard practice after major disasters.

Below are answers to some of the questions we’ve received.


Release of reports

Q. Was there a delay in releasing these reports?

A. The reports were released much faster than similar reports in years past.

These are reports from independent experts that make recommendations; once we received them we had to determine if and how we will achieve the recommendations. The final MNP report was received on March 22 and the final KMPG report was received on May 20.

These reports and responses have been published within 13 months of the fire – far more efficiently than the 2 years for post-incident assessments following the 2013 southern Alberta floods and the 2011 Slave Lake fire.


Communication coordination

Q. News media say the reports conclude there was a breakdown between provincial and Wood Buffalo incident commands. Was there?

A. People performed well in an unprecedented event, but there are areas for improvement.

The reports make it clear that there are areas for improvement in how the province assists a local response – and we will implement actions that achieve those improvements.

The Government of Alberta bears responsibility for providing the support that local responders need. It is important to remember that in Alberta, “the local authority shall, at all times, be in charge of the direction and control of the local response.”

This was an unprecedented event and we’re going to use the recommendations to improve future responses and communications in disasters moving forward.


Q. There are reports that the fire breached the city and the commander learned from social media. Is that a breakdown in communications?

A. Both reports point to constant contact between the municipality, forestry division and the Provincial Operations Centre.

This report includes interviews with hundreds of people, all of whom saw the incident unfold from singular perspectives.


Q. Could there have been a better, more unified command between the province and the RMWB?

A. Yes

There was a unified command in this event at the Regional Emergency Operations Centre but implementation was not ideal and there were challenges in sharing information.

These problems were because systems were not deployed or didn’t exist, not because people didn’t try. Much of our response to the reports is about how we will fix that.


Q. When will a radio system be in place so all first responders can talk to each other?

A. A system has been in place since 2016 and municipalities are migrating to it.

The government has invested $438 million in such a system since 2008 and the infrastructure has been finished since 2016; 98 municipalities are in the process of adopting it; 22 are fully implemented.

Fort McMurray signed an agreement to migrate in May 2017 and they should be complete by the end of 2017.


Evacuation

Q. There are reports that there was a delay in evacuation. Why wasn’t the city evacuated sooner?

A. It is not evident that a change in process would have resulted in an earlier evacuation.

As per normal operating procedures during a state of local emergency the power to evacuate is in the hands of the municipality.

However, it is not evident that had the decision been with the provincial government, evacuation would have happened sooner. There was constant communication between the provincial firefighters and the regional operations centre.

The Municipality began evacuations on May 1 and May 2 and a mandatory evacuation notice was issued on May 3.


Wildfire resources

Q. What about questions such as the placement of water tankers and the attack plans for the fire itself?

A. Resources are spread across the province to protect all Albertans, and moved when events erupt.

There are always lessons to be learned from events large and small, from great outcomes, and from difficult ones.

Our first responders have to place resources across Alberta to protect all of Alberta and move them when events erupt; resources will always have to be moved, attacks plans will always have to be executed and adjusted. That is the nature of firefighting.


News

Province acting on wildfire report recommendations (June 8, 2017)