Elliot Lake Building Collapse

Update to the update: Alternate means are being explored. It is a very difficult situation, unstable conditions present a danger of further collapse not only to the rescuers but also to those trapped.

Update: A heart-wrenching update. My thoughts are with the familes, I can’t imagine going through this. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1216636–at-least-9-still-unaccounted-for-after-mall-roof-collapse-in-elliot-lake?bn=1

On June 23 at approximately 2pm, the roof of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake collapsed sending debris tumbling into the occupied space below. Rescue operations are still underway at the time of this posts since there has been evidence that there are survivors trapped within the rubble.

An information centre has been set up at the W.H. Collins Hall. Additionally, people can call 1-888-310-1122 to get information on the status of people who have not been accounted for following the collapse.

Building collapses are rare in Ontario due to strict building codes and the availability of proper materials for construction. The Ontario Building Code was implemented in 1975 and has been updated several times since then to provide improved standards for building design and construction. The building code is applied during construction and building codes are rarely enforced retroactively, although building inspectors can require repairs to buildings that are unsafe. The media has reported that members of the community were concerned about the safety of the mall, but I have not found any information on whether these concerns were reported and whether an inspection was done. The cause is something that I am sure will be investigated in due time, but right now the focus is on the response.

In the immediate aftermath of a building collapse, first responders may have to deal with many tasks; including: assisting survivors out of the dangerous area, providing first aid, putting out fires, checking for gas leaks, turning off utilities, assessing the stability of the structure, shoring up safe paths into the building so that first responders can safely enter to rescue people, assessing secondary hazards, controlling access to the scene, providing information to the media etc.
After a collapse, the affected building is likely to still be unstable which may slow rescue operations since the structure must be stabilized for the safety of those who are trapped and first responders.

Secondary hazards may include;
-flooding due to pipe breaks
-hazardous materials spills (e.g. cleaning materials, fuel)
-live electrical wiring
-natural gas leaks
-airborne contaminants (e.g. asbestos)
-further collapses
-fire
-sharp debris
These secondary hazards, and not impeding the work of emergency responders are important reasons why people should never go into a collapsed building. First responders and specialized teams, such as HUSAR, have special training to handle the aftermath of a disaster.

After the collapse, Elliot Lake declared an emergency in order to request HUSAR (Heavy Urban Search and Rescue) assistance from the Province. The role of HUSAR is ‘the location of trapped persons in collapsed structures using dogs and sophisticated search equipment such as cranes to remove debris; the work to breach, shore, remove and lift structural components; the treatment and removal of victims; and the securing of partially or completely collapsed structures. These teams are expected to be completely self sufficient for 72 hours’ (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, 2012). HUSAR teams are available for deployment 24\7.

At the time of this post, HUSAR is working to stabilize the mall in Elliot Lake to allow responders to begin full search and rescue operations.

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