York rehearses role as nuclear evacuation centre

Friday will be a disaster at York. Paul Mayol is looking forward to it and so is Linda Staples. The two are among six York staff members who will play the part of evacuees, along with about 89 other people, in a nuclear emergency which is set to start, right on time, at 7:30am.

But don’t worry, the whole thing will be over by lunchtime.

parking sign

Right: Sign in front of Northwest Visitors Parking Lot notifies drivers of impending ‘disaster’

The disaster – a feigned nuclear emergency at the Pickering or Darlington Nuclear Generating Station – is part of a drill organized by the City of Toronto’s Office of Emergency Management to test different aspects of the city’s emergency preparedness plan. The drill is part of the Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan and Toronto Nuclear Emergency Response Plan and involves approximately 400 emergency services personnel.

This year’s event, which was four months in the planning, is the first major drill ever held at York, and is intended to test how emergency services personnel handle an evacuation, particularly of people with disabilities. That’s where Staples, who uses a wheelchair, comes in. Manager of facilities information in York’s Facilities Services, Staples will be playing the role of an evacuee as will Mayol, project manager in the Office of the Assistant Vice-President (Finance) & CFO. Michael Markicevic, executive director of York’s Security, Transportation, & Parking Services will be involved in the Incident Command Centre as the University’s liaison for the event. A total of 11 people with disabilities will take part in the test, four in wheelchairs, three with visual disabilities, two with hearing disabilities, one with a prosthetic leg and another with osteoarthritis. The volunteers are mostly City of Toronto staff members although a few come from other organizations involve in the exercise.

Shortly after they arrive in the Pioneer Creek parking lot, each of the 95 volunteers will be given a cue card with details of what has happened to them. They will arrive by bus or emergency vehicle at York’s Northwest Gate Visitors Lot (Lot-5V) and play their part in order to test this small segment of the emergency plan, in which York is designated as a reception/evacuee centre.

The exercise should have little impact on the University community, said Mayol, who has liaised with the city and has helped coordinate the event. Although parking changes will affect short-term users and visitors (see notice in the May 20 issue of YFile), permit holders will still be able to park in Lot 5-V, located just west of the Toronto Track & Field Centre. Adding a bit of real-life complexity to the drill, hundreds of high school athletes and their coaches participating in a track & field meet that day will need to be redirected to the Founders East parking lot (Lot-3B). Traffic will be controlled by the Toronto Police Service and York staff.

Although York has been a part of the provincial emergency plan for approximately 10 years, the only previous test conducted on the Keele campus was in 1995 and involved little more than a walkthrough for officials to view campus facilities, said Benedicta Lian, emergency management coordinator in the City of Toronto’s Emergency Management Office.

During the drill, staff from Ontario Power Generation will examine evacuees for possible radiation contamination and send them to the Tait McKenzie Centre for decontamination. Vehicles will be treated in the Northwest parking lot by city hazmat crews. Some of the evacuees will be sent to Stong College, which will be converted into an evacuee registration and temporary housing facility with offices for the participating agencies, which include St. John Ambulance, Toronto Amateur Radio Emergency Services, Salvation Army, Toronto Police Service, Toronto Transit Commission, Canadian Red Cross, Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team and York. An operations and communications command centre will be established in the William Small Centre and some members of York’s Security, Transportation, & Parking Services will participate in the drill as observers or assist in crowd control as they would in a real emergency, Mayol said.

Volunteer evacuees will begin assembling at Black Creek Pioneer Village at 7am and then will be transported half an hour later to the Northwest Gate Visitors Parking lot where they will be separated into those needing treatment for decontamination and those who merely need accommodation. In a real emergency, Mayol said, evacuees would be encouraged to stay with family members or friends and only those with nowhere else to go would be brought to York, one of several designated evacuation centres in the GTA. The drill ends around the noon hour although some emergency officials will remain on campus until mid-afternoon for debriefing meetings.

Last year’s drill, held at Seneca College’s Newnham Campus, included a number of household pets as evacuees so emergency crews could rehearse how they would be treated in a large-scale evacuation of the populated areas around the two nuclear plants east of Toronto. Facilitated by the city’s Office of Emergency Management, this year’s drill will include staff from city divisions that provide community services, Toronto Public Health, Fire Services and Emergency Medical Services.