Fourteen years ago on September 11th 2001, I was just getting ready to go home from my last night shift as a Calgary firefighter when my Lieutenant ran into the dorm and yelled “a plane just hit the World Trade Centre!”
As I finished putting on my shoes and ambled down the hallway of #16 firehall, I envisioned a small four-seater may have tagged the building. We all know how wrong that was.
I sat and watched in horror as the second tower was hit, people leapt to their death, the crumbling of massive buildings and finally, the loss of emergency responders.
For almost a year all I could wonder was why? Why hit the World Trade Centre? Why were so many police and fire personnel killed? What could be learned from this?
I needed to find some answers and decided to leave the firehall as a senior firefighter and apply to become a Disaster Services Officer. I had basic emergency management training, intermediate ICS certifications, and was just beginning a business degree in emergency services while perusing any After Action Reports based on 9/11 and other disasters.
I was successful in the competition and was immediately “voluntold” by my chief at the time to work with our Water Services Department to identify all their hazards and develop contingency plans for the greatest threats to their business.
“What?” I didn’t sign up for this, I wanted to be able to plan for saving lives on a large scale, protect citizens and ensure responder safety. Why would I need to work with the water engineers?
It seems that the United States had uncovered a cache of plans that laid out how to destroy major ports, water plants, chemical facilities, hospitals, and other major assets (banks for example). This was my first realization of the incredible cascading impacts that critical infrastructure losses have on each other, and the reason for sending me to our Water Services Department to build their emergency and continuity management program.
My first HIRA was based upon an Australian methodology that would provide a visual representation of the impact of the hazard on business operations. You know the chart: green to yellow to red with all the hazards listed in the boxes. The greatest threat to Calgary’s water operation was flooding, followed
by contamination, then terrorism. I researched internal plans and found that although prepared, the integration of a holistic approach to emergency management for the corporation was lacking. The mechanism of the hazard was irrelevant (natural, technological, man-made) and I had to work fast to provide emergency management structure for the leadership team and put crisis communication processes in place for field staff—and quickly, before we had a major emergency or disaster on my watch.