Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

"The chief psychological concern is with people withdrawing into themselves. We need to see that people are taking care of themselves."
Chief Petty Officer Second Class Danny Williams, Alert medical official

"Life anywhere is about who you are with, and I had fantastic people with me."
"Christmas was especially fun. People at the station came together as a family. There is a great sense of pride at serving here. Even my children in Ottawa, who are only three and seven, understand this. They told their friends I was away with Santa Claus."
Maj. Walt Michalchuk, aerospace engineer, past Alert commander

"The biggest reality of operating in the north is the weather. The environment is harsh and you can't get away from it."
"[Canadian Forces' presence at the top of the world is] the same as operating in Afghanistan. It is not just the flights. Everything to do with Alert [Nunavut] is expensive and complicated."
Lt.-Col. Cathy Blue, chief of logistic and engineering, CFB Trenton
Photo: Mental_floss

Expensive and complicated, but a Canadian military presence is seen as a requirement in displaying official sovereignty of that frozen northern geography. In the interests of which 79 Canadians live at the northernmost community on the planet, at CFS Alert, Nunavut, where the sun will be fervently hailed when it returns on February 28 at 10:41 am. The community has been in 24-hour darkness since 12:30 pm on October 14.

The station is manned as a top-secret military installation. Those who have been stationed at Alert have been tasked with listening for and gathering radio signals and intercepts of the electronic variety, emanating from Russia. They perform their tasks within a group of buildings, designed to be well  heated and brightly lit no matter what happens outside in that hostile world where muskox, Arctic fox, polar bears, wolves and giant white hares find their home, equipped by nature to withstand and thrive, regardless of weather severity.

Each one of those buildings at the station is outfitted with everything that is required to sustain human life. Water, emergency rations and sleeping accommodations have been established in each location that makes up the maze of buildings that has become the universe of the "frozen chosen". If a Storm Condition One erupts, lifelines strung between buildings guide people in finding their way safely between each.

Photo: Mental_floss

Should a Storm Condition Two suddenly manifest, with winds exceeding 80 km/h, the wind chill registering below -55C and/or when negative visibility results, all staff are instructed to remain wherever they happen to be within the facility at that point in time, until conditions ease. Environment Canada meteorologists and scientists are stationed there to conduct High Arctic research.

There are no doctors or nurses in residence; reliance for medical services rests with physician assistant Danny Williams, now on his second  tour at Alert, responsible for the physical and psychological well-being of everyone stationed there. Much adjustment is required to accustom the mind and body to months of non-stop darkness; people are known to suffer through a sense of upset of their biological clock.

One video conference call and a single telephone call daily is available to everyone to enable communication with family. A tanning machine is on site so people's bodies can be exposed to Vitamin D as required to sustain health in the absence of the sun. And there are recreational outings in quality time spent in the area where fishing for Arctic char and summer mountain biking and mineral hunts for crystals and pyrite take place.

Contractors for Nasittuq Corp., experienced men in their 50s and 60s, maintain the power equipment that provides the station's water and power, and they mix easily with soldiers whose boot camp experience has been of recent vintage. Supplies are shipped north in the late summer to Thule, Greenland, then ferried to Alert by air each fall and spring.

The remote isolation means that the installation and its residents must be capable of responding to any emergency situations. Of all the concerns of potential emergencies, the possibility of a catastrophic fire is likely the greatest, which is why Alert has its own minuscule fire department. Life-threatening medical emergencies require "Spooling up a bird from Trenton", to have a medevac aircraft arrive in Alert from Ontario, a trip of several days' duration.

Anyone who has ever read the personal account of Dr. Jerri Nielson, in her book Ice Bound: A doctor's incredible battle for survival at the South Pole, will have been familiarized with the beauty and isolation, the challenges and experiences of living in a vast, white hostile environment. As the medical officer of the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica in 2009, Dr. Nielson learned to cope with adversity, and her detailed descriptions of life in utter darkness within an immense white geography were spell-binding.

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