Communication breakdown affected Fort McMurray effort says provincial report

Published: June 12, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



While little could have been done to stop damage from the Fort McMurray wildfire, a new report suggests a breakdown in communication exasperated the situation as fire spread through the town and displaced 90,000 residents for a month.

A report written by independent consultants on behalf of Alberta shows that two crews combatting the fire were working through separate command centres. This critical communication broke down as one crew chief realised the first would enter Fort McMurray, but failed to warn crews working in the Wood Buffalo (a different municipality).

Instead, members of the Fort Mac community learned of the blaze entering the town from social media.

“It was unfortunate that someone had to learn about events on social media, I would agree 100 per cent,” Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier told a news conference.

The report recommends communications could have been tighter and I would agree.”

Alberta authorities commissioned reports from two consultants to find out how emergency services acted and responded during the disaster, which amazingly claimed no lives. However, the May, 2016 blaze destroyed thousands of buildings and was the largest insurance loss in Canadian history.

The province is acting on knowledge of a communication breakdown by implementing a new integrated communications system, which will be rolled out over the next five years. In the meantime, procedures have been put in place to avoid gaps in communication.

“We’re trying to make sure we can roll it out as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson.

“(In the meantime) we’re using all the tools in the toolbox. Regardless if it’s social media or if it’s radios or cellphones or whatever it is, we have to work with what we have right now.”

“There is limited evidence that contingency plans were being developed and implemented during the first 36 hours aimed at providing opportunities to contain or minimize damage as the wildfire approached the community,” stated a report from consultant MNP.