Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 09, 2017 - 10:00 am

Military plans mock sealift disaster in Rankin Inlet

“Casualties will swamp the community resources”

BETH BROWN
Master Cpl. Andy Aliyak, left, and Ranger John Ussak of the Canadian Rangers discuss route options with Capt. Matthew Szostk Aug. 21, 2016, during Operation Nanook near Rankin Inlet. This year's annual northern military exercise starts Aug. 14 in Rankin Inlet, and parts of northern Labrador. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CAF)
Master Cpl. Andy Aliyak, left, and Ranger John Ussak of the Canadian Rangers discuss route options with Capt. Matthew Szostk Aug. 21, 2016, during Operation Nanook near Rankin Inlet. This year's annual northern military exercise starts Aug. 14 in Rankin Inlet, and parts of northern Labrador. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CAF)

Rankin Inlet is gearing up for a mock sealift disaster.

A barge carrying resupply goods is set to blow up later this month as part of the annual northern military exercise Operation Nanook—but it’s just for practice.

The two-part sovereignty operation runs Aug. 14 to Aug. 27 in Nunavut and parts of northern Labrador, and will involve more than 720 civilian and military personnel.

But the bulk of the Nunavut-based scenario, which will practice a large-scale response to a major public emergency, runs Aug. 22 though Aug. 24 in Rankin Inlet, with a community day on Aug. 25 to wrap up the activities.

“It’s annual resupply that comes ashore and catches fire,” said Lt. Jamie Stewart of the Navy, who is part of the planning team.

“With the myriad of hazardous material aboard, it explodes,” he said.

This year’s focus on a resupply disaster was chosen since shipping and sealift has been increasing in the territory, he said—especially in the Kivalliq region due to mine development.

The goal is to practice “crisis response and consequence management activities resulting from an overwhelming emergency in an isolated community,” Joint Task Force North spokesperson Major Josée Bilodeau said.

Following the mock explosion, first responders will be quickly overwhelmed and the territory will declare a public emergency. At that point federal aid groups will be called in and nearby military members, who in the scenario are around for an exercise anyway, will step in to help.

In all that mayhem, “the fire will spread ashore,” said Stewart, and the community centre will be set up as a place of refuge for people evacuated from their homes in one area of town.

“There will be casualties, the barge crew and individuals offloading,” said Stewart.

“These casualties will swamp the community resources,”—so the Public Health Agency of Canada will set up a mini clinic.

“All the while, the toxic plume will start to drift down wind,” he said.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs will send a team to test damage to the environment, such as toxins in the water and contamination to the foliage that caribou live on.

Because only the barge and offloading area are affected by the disaster, the exercise will not include reaction to any sort of large oil spill.

Around 290 people will take part in the Rankin Inlet portion of Operation Nanook.

Most military members will come from 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg that makes up an Arctic Response Company Group. Civilian departments will include Defence Research and Development Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the RCMP, along with municipal groups.

Canadian Rangers from Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Whale Cove and Arviat will also take part.

Stewart said the exercise will bring a handful of “illustrious VIPs” to the community—meaning decorated military members and government officials. Since part of the exercise will take place in town, community radio updates will be done throughout the exercise to keep residents informed.

The whole operation will see three CC-138 Twin Otter aircrafts, three CH-146 Griffon helicopters and two CH-147 Chinook helicopters deployed, as well as a CC- 130 Hercules and CC-177 Globemaster cargo aircraft, according to documents provided to the Nunavut Planning Commissions.

The Labrador portion of the exercise will be based in Goose Bay, and will focus on northern defence and security.

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