Emergency workers prepare for fictional tornado swarm heading for Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer

A storm rolls into the city as a tornado watch is issued for the Edmonton area on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia, file

Violent tornados are hurtling toward Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer in the middle of a summer heat wave, striking homes and destroying everything in their paths.

That’s the fictional scenario emergency response teams in Alberta are preparing for this week. The annual exercise, running Wednesday through Friday, simulates a realistic emergency scenario and tests how provincial agencies respond. Alberta was hit with 23 tornadoes in 2019, while only four were recorded in 2018.

“The average, normally in Alberta, is 15. Last year, there was an uptick,” Scott Long, the executive director of provincial operations at the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said on Wednesday at the Provincial Operations Centre in Edmonton.

There were 112 hail storms last year — more than double the number in 2018 — and the province set a record for the number of lightning strikes, around 602,000 strikes.

“Previous years we’ve done wildfires, we’ve done floods, we’ve done ice storms. When we do these scenarios, we choose challenging, complex threats and potential threats, and clearly tornadoes in Alberta is a potential threat.”

A search-and-rescue team was doing a live exercise outside Calgary, and in Edmonton, a multitude of agencies from all levels of government and groups like the Red Cross and Salvation Army were working on how to respond, together.

In the simulation, tornados disrupted water supply in Red Deer and hospitals were damaged and patients needed to be relocated. Transportation, telecommunication, schools and seniors facilities were also damaged

Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said the exercise would ensure all agencies are ready to respond in the case of tornados and other disasters, including wildfires.

“In reality, we can’t predict when a disaster or emergency will strike, but exercises such as (Emergency Management Exercise) 2020 will ensure we are better prepared to respond when they do happen,” he said. “To every Albertan, you can protect yourself and your family by doing what you can now to be ready for an emergency or disaster in the future.”

Edmonton has already experienced a catastrophic storm. On July 31, 1987, the Black Friday tornado killed 27 people, injured hundreds, and caused $330 million in property damage. The twister was measured at F4 on the Fujita scale, with winds up to 416 km/h.

Alberta’s second-worst twister on record was the Pine Lake tornado on July 14, 2000 — 12 people were killed.

To prepare for a disaster, the province recommends Albertans download the Alberta Emergency Alert smartphone app, review their insurance coverage, create an emergency plan and build an emergency kit for family and pets, including a USB with important documents.