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Fresh water challenge

Aid team tries test run in Yellowknife

Darren Stewart
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 11/03) - Picture this: The ice on the Mackenzie River has formed a frozen dam, reducing water flow, and Yellowknife city officials worry that we may be isolated before spring breakup.

Worse yet, the standing water becomes contaminated and Stanton Territorial Hospital quickly fills with people who've contracted a bacterial disease.

The city needs water and emergency medical resources--fast.

A 12-member Canadian Forces team is in Yellowknife this week to prepare for that scenario and practice for other similar scenarios across Canada.

Maj. Wayne Gauthier, acting director of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), said the team could be up and running within a week, if disaster were to strike a community.

"There's a seven-day cycle from when I get a warning order to when we're on the ground," he said.

Upon arrival, the DART team can provide 50,000 gallons of potable water per day and they can bring with them a roving 30-bed clinic.

The Yellowknife exercise will be the first domestic test for the new team. Gauthier said that the team would conduct test runs looking at what's available and what they would need if disaster were to strike a city like Yellowknife.

"We chose Yellowknife because of its relative remoteness," he said. "We're also looking at winterizing our operations, refining our cold weather capabilities, so we figured we'd come to the North."

The team, which has a total of 129 members, was created in 1996 to aid in foreign humanitarian work abroad, but changed their focus to domestic problems after Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

"The federal government decided we should be ready to deploy in domestic situations which was a new turn for us," he said.

The team hasn't been deployed since the major earthquake in Turkey in 1999.

While in Yellowknife, Gauthier will also conduct face-to-face meetings with local emergency preparedness workers.

Eric Bussey, director of emergency measures for the territorial government, said that Yellowknife's biggest worries are forest fires in the summer and prolonged power outages in the winter.

"The DART team is a good example of the resources the federal government can provide us."

"Normally the city would respond to an emergency to the best of its ability," said Tim Mercer, the city's director of corporate services.

"When the city taps its resources we look to the territorial government and when the territorial government taps its research they turn to the federal government."