Cochrane was threatened by a wildfire from the west that saw 200 Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers called into action.

That was the premise of a mock emergency exercise that wrapped up today in Cochrane that was two years in the planning.

SAR Alberta president Brian Carriere says it's the first time they've held a mock emergency exercise that brought together SAR organizations from across the province. It's in addition to the regular training they receive in their own units.

"We believe in being prepared for operations all the time, so this was would have been conducted or planned regardless of wildfires because we want to be ready for all hazards response. So that's why this training is being done and we've been preparing for this exercise for two years now, doing background training and preparing a new training program."

From the emergency coordination centre to the field, the exercise reflected many of the real-life situations faced in a disaster and mass evacuation.

mockA few of the actors involved in the rescue scenarios were assigned to make it difficult for SAR to evacuate the encampment.

There was a particularly stark enactment of attempting to locate, evacuate and treat people from an encampment this morning at Camp Jubilee. A few of the actors portrayed difficult people to make it challenging. It does happen in real life and provided a valuable learning opportunity.

Crystal Hamilton of SAR Alberta explained the scenario in advance.

"They're going to come down here and just see if there's anybody here who needs to be evacuated. When they arrive, they're going to come across multiple people who have been injured by the fire. We have varying injuries from minor to severe. We have about 20 different patients around there who are going to be extracted and they're going to be what's called triage situation. That's where they're deciding who gets brought out."

Andy PottonSAR Cochrane president Andy Potton with a map of the Cochrane scenario in the background.

SAR Cochrane president Andy Potton, who was exercise controller, said the emergency scenario was inspired by a wildfire that did threaten Cochrane in May 2018.

"That was where I got my original idea from, and so I was also very fortunate to work with the Town of Canmore on their wildfire exercise two years ago. In doing that, I really liked how the exercise designer had built that, so I emulated a lot of what that exercise director had done. I played it here in Cochrane, working in consultation with Town of Cochrane Director of Emergency Management (Jay Judin)."

By Saturday afternoon, 100 SAR volunteers had knocked on doors and "evacuated" roughly half the town.

"We did identify that dry spring wildfire running through the town would be a challenge, and also knowing that last year search and rescue was heavily involved in the wildfires. This year we're really trying to get in front of it, add additional training and really work towards ensuring our troops, where we come in and we fill the gaps that are needed, are as comfortable as they can be and as experienced as they can be when the actual wildfires come."

READ MORE: 6 Cochranites helping in Alberta wildfire fight

Should help be required elsewhere in the province, Putton says they'll be there to answer the call, as they have in the past. SAR Cochrane has 85 volunteers. 

"Hopefully it won't pick up too bad and hopefully with all the new measures that are in place, we'll be able to fight it," says Dutton.  "If not, then yeah, we'll be able to deploy at any one time around about 50 search and rescue volunteers to anywhere in the province to assist."

Todd LoewenTodd Loewen, Alberta Forestry and Parks minister, was here to observe the exercise.

Forestry and Parks minister Todd Loewen was here to observe, and support his wife, who has been involved in search and rescue in Greenview county for five years.

"It was great to see these volunteers out doing this training and the scenarios that they had were so realistic. It was incredible."

He speaks highly of their contribution to the province.

"We see the value right in our own communities. Lots of calls go out to them. They've been able to help our RCMP officers, and they've been able to help our wildfire people so they can focus on the more serious parts of their jobs.

"I've got to say thanks to the volunteers, and thanks to search and rescue organizations across Alberta."

The wildfire season officially started on Mar. 1, a month earlier than usual, but in reality, it never ended in pockets of northwest Alberta.

Loewen says they are preparing for the worse and are hoping for the best.

"We still have some winter coming, and it's good to see some snow falling out there right now. I hope it just continues to fall and that we get some timely rains in the spring. That could make all the difference in the world."

Jay Judin, Cochrane’s director of Protective Services and Emergency Management, says the town had a number of objectives in mind when offering to host the exercise. The town runs regular exercises to ensure they are prepared for any type of disaster or emergency that may impact the municipality.

"We're very fortunate to have such dedicated employees within Cochrane who make themselves available to be trained in incident command systems to handle any type of emergency or disaster that may hit Cochrane and dedicate their time to training and providing themselves for exercises to get better so that if anything did ever happen disaster wise to Cochrane, we're very well placed to provide a very robust response.

In addition to having a strong relationship with SAR Cochrane, there's comfort in knowing there are other people and resources available to call upon.

"As a disaster grows in complexity, that's where the relationship with Search and Rescue Alberta comes into play. They're able to draw on resources from across the province and as you see in this exercise, we've had between 150 and 200 search and rescue personnel from across the province converge. Really, Search and Rescue is a force multiplier for us."

SARS preSAR Alberta president Brian Carriere in the field, right. 

SAR Alberta president Carriere says they intend to hold provincewide exercises again in the future.

"And of course, last year we did some real deployments collectively, so now we're practicing that and perfecting that skill."

"We're going to analyze team performance. We will work on our operational procedures and then also use it to develop further training so we can get even better in the future."