Edmonton International Airport (EIA) and Fort McMurray International Airport (YMM) worked together to develop a campaign that would keep the rebuilding of the city of Fort McMurray in the public's mind long after Canada's largest evacuation ever was finished.
On May 1, 2016, a wildfire in Northern Alberta got out of control and over the course of the next week, destroyed 10 per cent of the City of Fort McMurray. More than 80,000 people had to evacuate from Fort McMurray and surrounding communities. This was the largest evacuation in Canadian history and was mostly accomplished within 24 hours, without any fatalities.
The communications teams at both airports worked very closely during the evacuation, as Edmonton is the closest metropolitan area to Fort McMurray. EIA had to provide communications between evacuees and all the people and organizations that provided shelter or transportation to the evacuees.
In order to ensure that the story would not be forgotten in a few short months after the incident, the airports banded together to launch a campaign where members of both communities could publicly share messages of encouragement and thanks.
EIA was concerned with a number of issues which overrode regular airport operations. The first priority was evacuating the maximum number of people from the fire zone as quickly and as safely as possible. Second priority was to assist evacuees in finding accommodation, food and medical services. Third priority was to help the evacuees, airlines and Fort McMurray International Airport return to the Wood Buffalo Region and resume business and their lives.
It became evident immediately during the evacuation that there was a strong sense of solidarity between the Edmonton and Wood Buffalo regions. As people were looking for ways of showing this solidarity, EIA and YMM launched a joint initiative of signing boards for people to write to each community. Twenty boards, each four feet tall by eight feet wide, were prepared for people to sign, with half saying "Thank you" or and the other half saying "We're with you, Fort McMurray." The "We're with you" boards were displayed in EIA and public places in Edmonton such as festivals, City Hall and the Provincial Legislature building. The "Thank you" boards were displayed in YMM and public locations in the Wood Buffalo Region. Within a few weeks all of the boards had been filled with signatures and positive comments.
The comments ranged from children telling people not to be scared, and that everything would be alright to specific thank you's to a certain business or resident who took in an evacuee, and everything in between.
We strategically placed the boards in highly-visible areas where we expected large droves of the general public to be in attendance, such as K-Days and Heritage Festival, two of Edmonton's biggest summer festivals. We were able to get the boards backstage at fundraising concerts in both communities, and some internationally-known artists signed them, which helped us promote them on social media.
We also worked to get the boards in front of local and provincial elected officials. Mayors and Councillors from both communities signed the boards, as well as provincial MLA's from all ridings and party affiliations. These boards were shared between caucus floors, something few items ever do.
As we near the end of the campaign, we have a total of more than 20 boards full of signatures from both communities. We're currently planning a wrap-up event to coincide with Thanksgiving, where we will have the boards on display, commission local artists from both communities to create something from the boards, and auction them off to the highest bidder, and "sell" turkeys, all to raise money for the food banks in the two communities. Our plan is for the event to feature both cities' mayors, as well the CEO's of each airport, and be located on an empty floor in a downtown Edmonton Tower, with panoramic views of the city and all its development - tying with the campaign theme of "rebuilding."
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