The May wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, left Canadians across the nation in awe of nature’s power and capacity for destruction. Now that the smoke has cleared over Fort McMurray, residents and businesses must confront their newest challenge: rebuilding their once-flourishing communities, while trying to find some semblance of normalcy in a post-catastrophe situation.
Large-scale restoration companies have been at the forefront of efforts to restore and rebuild Fort McMurray after the wildfires. Restoration companies have lent their resources and expertise to the first response process; provided first-hand perspectives from inside the fire danger zone, and have worked to restore critical commercial infrastructure in time for residential re-entry. Restoration companies have emerged as essential factors in the process of easing residents and businesses into resettlement, and in beginning the long-term restoration process.
Restoration Companies and First Response
As first responders headed to Fort McMurray to fight the growing wildfires, noxious smoke caused air quality levels to rise to dangerous levels. Responding to the need for critical air quality restoration, restoration companies deployed personnel and essential resources – such as air scrubbers (negative air machines) – to the area. Restoration experts worked around the clock to manage air quality in the areas where first responders were active, and in areas where temporary accommodations for emergency personnel were located. Ensuring that first responders were able to operate effectively and safely was the first priority for restoration companies operating in Fort McMurray during those crucial first weeks.
New Technology in the Disaster Zone
It goes without saying that the people and resources played an essential role in the response and recovery process in Fort McMurray. However, a third, often-overlooked, element which contributed to restoration in the area was technology.
Technology played an unprecedented role in the restoration and first response process in Fort McMurray. Access to mobile technology and strong telecommunications infrastructure in Fort McMurray ensured a seamless two-way flow of communication between restoration professionals and their residential and commercial clients. The Fort McMurray damage Map app, launched by the Government of Alberta, allowed evacuated residents to view satellite images of affected communities, helping them assess damage and mentally prepare for their return. For commercial building managers, CCTV’s and wi-fi-controlled building management systems enabled remote monitoring and control of building operations from a safe distance. This allowed building managers to assess and quickly act to change the operations of their facilities, resulting in a reduction of damage to their facilities.
The use of technology in Fort McMurray was pivotal in keeping the public aware and in control, even as the wildfires spread. This was a marked improvement from the Slave Lake wildfires in 2011, when even a strong cellphone signal was considered a luxury.
Critical Infrastructure Restoration
In the aftermath of the fires, restoration companies turned their attention towards restoration of critical commercial infrastructure such as hospitals, grocery stores and banks to lay the groundwork for resident re-entry. Working in tandem with commercial property managers, restoration companies helped to restore basic services in Fort McMurray in time for the government of Alberta’s proposed June 1st re-entry date. The work isn’t over just yet – many of the worst-affected Fort McMurray communities have yet to be deemed livable or safe for re-entry. Restoration companies continue to operate in and around Fort McMurray, helping to rebuild communities one brick at a time.
Through timely mobilization to the Fort McMurray area, and use of new technologies, restoration companies have proven themselves indispensible to the rebuilding of Fort McMurray. They also played a key role in on-the-ground communications, providing a firsthand perspective of what to expect upon re-entry, and how to sufficiently prepare. Restoration efforts in Fort McMurray are a testament to cooperative strength between first responders, government bodies, restoration professionals and insurers. As efforts continue, we can be certain that restoration companies will help lead the charge in bringing Fort McMurray back to its former self.
Jim Mandeville is the senior project manager – large loss North America at FirstOnSite Restoration. Jim has been on the ground in Fort McMurray since May 8, 2016, leading FirstOnSite’s efforts in commercial and residential restoration in the area. He was previously a part of restoration projects during the Slave Lake wildfires in 2011, Alberta floods in 2013 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.