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Dealing with disaster

Van Tighem plays the waiting game

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 14/01) - When Bernie Van Tighem looks out the window of his office on the sixth floor of the NorthwesTel building, it's his job to wonder what could go wrong.

NNSL Photo

Bernie Van Tighem shows how electronic equipment like satellite phones could be used on his floor, which would be the base of operations in a Yellowknife emergency. - Dawn Ostrem/NNSL photo

He is the emergency co-ordinator for Municipal and Community Affairs' emergency measures organization.

On most days, he is the emergency measures organization.

"The bulk of it is emergency preparedness for the territory and the government itself," he said. "Things like business resumption and the maintenance of business and government records."

When disaster strikes, the planning stops.

Then volunteers and organizations become mobile to put out the flames, put buildings back together and care for the injured.

One might wonder what could go wrong here. The answer is plenty.

"Forest fires are a significant one," Van Tighem said. "We do get earthquakes up here."

A quake measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale shook up Wekweti Nov. 27.

Building damage can occur at 5.0.

He's only been on the job for two months, but has already had to deal with an emergency.

One of the first things Van Tighem did was deal with a suspicious package found at the Canada Post sorting facility.

Although the white powder turned out to be harmless, the anthrax scare around North America forced Van Tighem to co-ordinate a multi-agency response.

"That was a rather intense couple of days," Van Tighem said.

His emergency involvement doesn't end with his job. He is also a member of the coast guard auxiliary and a volunteer firefighter.

Van Tighem said as the emergency co-ordinator there is no shortage of things to do.

"I have hit the ground and am still running."