Operation LASER

Operation LASER  20-01 - COVID-19

For up-to-date Department of National Defence information related to COVID-19, please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/campaigns/covid-19-military-response.html

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Operation LASER is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) response to a worldwide pandemic situation.

During Operation LASER, the CAF implement certain measures on their personnel and Department of National Defence (DND) employees to reduce the impacts of a pandemic situation. These measures are implemented in order to maintain operational capabilities and readiness to support Government of Canada objectives and requests for assistance.

Canadian Armed Forces assistance

Assistance to the Public Health Agency of Canada

Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel are assisting the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) with the warehouse management of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in multiple regions across Canada. PHAC remains responsible for the distribution of the PPE to provinces and territories. However, military members with relevant expertise are assisting with tasks such as material processing duties

Support to long-term care facilities

Military operations are, by their very nature, dynamic and must evolve along with the threat encountered. As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are taking various precautions to protect our personnel and to prevent further spread of the virus by adapting our Force Health Protection Measures, Public Health Measures, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protocols accordingly. The CAF are also following expert advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The following preventative or mitigation measures have been adopted by CAF personnel working in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19:

• CAF members are rigorously practicing good hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
• When CAF members deploy, they have the proper PPE such as masks, eyewear, gowns or gloves. CAF members understand the PPE requirements based on the tasks being performed and the environment in which they are performed;
• While performing their duties, if CAF members cannot avoid being within two-meters of one another, they are wearing appropriate protective gear; and
• All necessary measures are taken to ensure that CAF members are virus-free prior to, during, and directly following deployment on operations.

Before deploying in LTCFs, CAF personnel are trained in a number of areas including safe movement of patients and protocols for wearing and using PPE. CAF medical personnel receive additional training on assisted feeding and bedside care. CAF personnel undergo a familiarization and orientation period in the LTCF establishment to ensure their work will be properly structured and effective once they commence duties and they receive mental health and resilience training to prepare them for the current reality in LTCFs.

Additionally, the CAF have contracted hotels to support the housing requirements of CAF members providing direct on-site support to LTCFs. Independent food, transportation and laundry systems are made available to personnel to ensure the force is self-sufficient.

The CAF understood there was potential for members working in LTCFs to contract COVID-19. This was taken into account in our planning processes, given that our personnel would be operating in high risk environments and working in close proximity to residents who have tested positive or are exhibiting COVID-19 related symptoms.

At the first sign of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 the CAF member is placed in isolation for 14 days and/or tested in order to confirm the diagnosis. If required, the member will receive the needed medical and personal support until their health is recovered. Contact tracing is also conducted to help limit the spread of the infection.

Quebec

As of May 29, 2020, there are 1444 CAF personnel supporting civilian authorities within 22 LTCFs (also known as CHSLD) in Quebec.

Deployed CAF personnel have been divided into teams comprised of one senior medical authority, six medical workers, and support troops. The specific composition of each shift determined by the facility’s individual needs identified during the reconnaissance. The total number of serving military personnel, ranges from 14 to 60 per facility and they collaborate with the civilian medical staff on site.

Support is currently being provided in the following facilities:

1. CHSLD Vigi Reine-Elizabeth (Montréal)
2. Résidence Berthiaume-Du Tremblay (Montréal)
3. CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal (Ville Mont-Royal)
4. CHSLD Floralies-De-Lasalle (Lasalle)
5. Centre d’hébergement de Saint-Laurent (Saint-Laurent)
6. CHSLD Argyle (Saint-Lambert)
7. CHSLD Benjamin-Victor-Rousselot (Montréal)
8. CHSLD Auclair (Montréal)
9. CHSLD de la Rive (Laval)
10. CHSLD Eloria-Lepage (Montréal)
11. Centre d'Hébergement Jean-De-La-Lande (Montréal)
12. Centre d’Hébergement Saint-Andrew (Montréal)
13. CHSLD Denis-Benjamin Viger (Montréal)
14. Le Bellagio (Longueuil)
15. Centre d’Hébergement Real-Morel (Montréal)
16. CHSLD Jean-Hubert-Biermans (Montréal)
17. Centre d’Hébergement Saint-Margaret (Montréal)
18. CHSLD Cartierville (Montréal)
19. Centre d’Hébergement Nazaire-Piché (Montréal)
20. CHSLD de Lachine (Lachine)
21. CHSLD Paul-Gouin (Montréal)
22. CHSLD Henri-Bradet (Montréal)

CAF personnel have completed their tasks in the following locations:

1. CHSLD Hôpital Sainte-Anne (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue)
2. CHSLD Valéo (Saint-Lambert)
3. CHSLD Villa Val des Arbres (Laval)
4. Manoir de Verdun (Montréal)
5. Centre d’hébergement Yvon-Brunet (Montréal)
6. Grace Dart Extended Care Centre (Montréal)

The tasks carried out by the military members vary depending on needs. Most tasks are performed under the necessary supervision of specialists in the health field, for example:

  • Preparing, serving and collecting meals
  • Feeding residents
  • Washing residents’ hands and faces
  • Assisting with personal hygiene
  • Taking part in various services for residents
  • Accompanying independent residents on walks or to the bathroom
  • Reassuring residents
  • Cleaning, stowing and maintaining equipment
  • Preparing and distributing certain products
  • Sharing observations with nursing colleagues to ensure the best possible follow-up for residents

Naturally, personnel working inside the buildings wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in accordance with the protocols applicable at the respective CHSLDs. Before being deployed to these establishments, personnel receive training on wearing PPE and on geriatrics, aging, the specifics of seniors and end-of-life care. In addition, our personnel undergo a familiarization and orientation period in the establishment to ensure their work is well-structured and effective when they arrive. Personnel also receive mental health training to prepare them for the current reality in CHSLDs.

Ontario

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are working with provincial partners to deliver support to 5 long-term care facilities, identified by the Government of Ontario, in order to ensure the ongoing safety of residents, help maintain effective staffing levels, and assist with infection control and prevention.                                     

From April 24 to 27, 2020, the CAF dispatched teams to assess the COVID-19 situation at 5 long-term care facilities (to allow CAF medical staff to adapt training based on the specific needs of each facility and set conditions for the deployment of military medical and support personnel.

Starting April 28, 2020, the CAF began deployment of military teams to provide support to Ontario. These teams are currently working in shifts, and are comprised of one senior medical personnel and six medical workers from 4 Health Services Group, along with personnel to perform duties in support of operations.

Support is currently being provided in the following facilities:

• Orchard Villa, in Pickering;
• Altamont Care Community, in Scarborough;
• Eatonville, in Etobicoke; and
• Hawthorne Place, in North York.

CAF personnel have completed their tasks in the following locations:

• Holland Christian Homes Grace Manor, in Brampton.

The Government of Ontario made the decision about which homes received military support.

CAF members deployed in support of the government effort to fight COVID-19 are following the mitigation and prevention measures emphasized by Canada’s public health experts. They have received medical briefings and are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment according to the level of protection required for the tasks performed.

As of May 29, 2020, there are 285 CAF personnel supporting civilian authorities within 4 LTCFs in Ontario.

Support to Public Health Ontario

The CAF are currently assisting Public Health Ontario (PHO) by conducting COVID-19 related follow-up, contact tracing phone calls, and associated reporting. More specifically, a team from 1 Dental Unit is supporting PHO by making phone calls to identified contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases. The goal of the contact tracing initiative is to quickly identify new cases, verify if all contacts have the support they need, and improve the understanding of the epidemiology of COVID-19. The task started on April 16, 2020, with 30 dental officers, dental technician-hygienists and dental technicians from across the country working 7 days a week to assist PHO, as needed. The CAF are pleased to work in close collaboration with provincial partners in this collective effort.  

Canadian Ranger support to Quebec 

The 2nd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (2 CRPG) has deployed over 200 Rangers to assist 28 communities under Operation LASER, in response to various requests for assistance from the Province of Quebec. These requests have been approved by the federal government.

Nunavik
On April 3, 2020, 2 CRPG was first mandated to assist the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS), who reports to the Quebec Government's Ministère de la Santé et des services sociaux (MSSS). 2 CRPG responded to this request by deploying approximately 100 Rangers who are permanent residents of the 14 affected Nunavik communities.

Basse-Côte-Nord
On April 17, 2020, 2 CRPG was mandated to assist the North Shore Regional MSSS. The Rangers are providing local assistance force in their respective communities. They are currently supporting these communities: Kegaska, Harrington Harbour, Tête-à-la-Baleine, Chevery, Bonne Espérance, Saint-Augustin, La Tabatière, and Blanc-Sablon.

North Shore
On April 19, 2020, 2 CRPG received another mandate following a request from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to support Innu communities on the North Shore. 2 CRPG personnel are currently employed in Nutashkuan (Natashquan), Ekuanitshit (Mingan), Unamen Shipu (La Romaine) and Pakua Shipi.

On April 30, 2020, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) extended their request to include the Innu community of Kawawashikamach, near Schefferville.

There are currently over 125 active Canadian Rangers in both the North Shore and Lower North Shore region.

Local Response Forces

The term Local Response Forces (LRF) refers to unit-level organizations across the Canadian Armed Forces that are not yet tasked as part of Joint Task Force-LASER Task Forces but may contribute to community-level activities as municipalities continue to deal with the spread of COVID-19.

The LRF personnel may be Reservists who work out of armouries in cities across Canada, or troops on bases and wings who may be called upon to fulfill tasks in the local community. More specifically, LRFs may provide a helpful hand for short term general duty tasks which are not official government to government requests for assistance. Local Response Forces include:

Deployment of Canadian Rangers in Saskatchewan

On April 11, 2020, The 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (4 CRPG) activated three northern Saskatchewan Ranger patrols in Wollaston Lake, Île-à-la-Crosse, and Fond-du-Lac to assist local officials in COVID-19 relief efforts. Approximately 40 Rangers began working following requests that were submitted to the province’s emergency management office.

In their patrol communities, the Rangers are providing support such as:

  • Wellness checks
  • Helping with transportation and distribution of local supplies to community members
  • Assisting in staffing municipal/community-operated command posts and emergency centre
  • Gathering data and statistics on the current state of the community relative to the COVID-19 relief efforts
  • Supporting community food security through hunting, gathering, and fishing

On April 23, 2020, 4 CRPG also began similar activities in Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan. Local response force activities are currently scheduled to last 12 days, at which time it will be re-evaluated.

Approximately 50 Rangers are currently active in the Province of Saskatchewan under Operation LASER. To date, more than 200 Rangers from 4 CRPG are on standby and ready to support local requests for assistance.

Deployment of Canadian Rangers in Northern Ontario

Approximately 157 members of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (3 CRPG) were activated on April 5, 2020, in support of Operation LASER. As of May 3, 2020, 3 CRPG received a formal request for assistance for the period of May 5 to 20, where local Canadian Ranger Patrols were supporting their communities of Kashechewan First Nation and Fort Albany in preparation for flooding. This support consisted of various tasks within the community to support the aims of Chief and Council and emergency management, including the creation of a shelter for community members who stayed close to their community, and the evacuation of vulnerable persons to Fort Albany. This support was conducted in concurrence with our partner agencies including Indigenous Services Canada, The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and the Canadian Red Cross.

As of May 21, 2020, no flooding has occurred in this area and the community has begun to return members from the nearby camps.

While this request for local assistance tasking is now complete, the Canadian Rangers continue to perform other tasks within the community. They remain in constant contact with their local Chief and Council by attending meetings and various planning groups, as well as assisting with such tasks as flood watch, distribution of water and other necessities, and fire wood collection and distribution.

Members of 3 CRPG remain ready to respond to requests for assistance or requests for local support in their communities, as approved by federal, territorial, or provincial authorities.

3 CRPG is part of the Canadian Army Reserve Force and provides the Canadian Armed Forces with a military presence in 30 First Nation communities of the remote coastal and inland regions of Northern Ontario.

Deployment of Canadian Rangers to Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut

Between April 5 and May 4, 2020, 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG) activated approximately 400 members across various communities in the three territories – Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. As members were activated in the communities in which they live, they were able to provide essential support to relief efforts in most northern remote areas.

From April 27 to May 15, 2020, 11 Canadian Rangers from 1 CRPG were been assigned to support Watson Lake, Yukon to provide support to the community.
 
Canadian Rangers from the Watson Lake Patrol, 1 CRPG, prepared and delivered food hampers to community members in need, in support of the Watson Lake Hearts and Hands Community Project in Watson Lake, Yukon.

Between May 5 and 8, 2020, 11 Canadian Rangers from 1 CRPG deployed to Igloolik, Nunavut.

Canadian Rangers from 1 CRPG assisted the Igloolik Hunters and Trappers Organization to deliver food to families in need in Igloolik, Nunavut.

As part of this local response, members of 1 CRPG undertook tasks including:

  • Community wellness checks
  • Transport and distribution of food and local supplies
  • Support to local community and territorial COVID-19 awareness programs
  • Assistance in loading, transporting, and unloading of humanitarian assistance goods

As required, the activated members were also prepared to assist with other duties, including:

  • Verifying and supporting at-risk individuals or families
  • Monitoring of critical infrastructure;
  • Transporting and distributing local supplies;
  • Gathering data on community disposition relative to the COVID-19 crisis
  • Assisting local health authorities with various tasks.

 

The three lines of effort for Operation LASER

  • Preserve and protect CAF personnel to maintain operational capabilities and readiness, and meet the core mandates of the CAF.
  • Assess CAF activities at home and abroad including continuity plans, protecting defence supply chains, and taking measures to limit the chance of infection of CAF personnel.
  • Support other government departments to ensure the CAF are ready to support the Government of Canada’s objectives and requests for assistance.

Phases

Operation LASER is the activation of Contingency Plan (CONPLAN) LASER for the response to a pandemic of an influenza-like disease. The plan consists of 4 phases. The Chief of the Defence Staff activated phase 2 of Operation LASER on March 2, 2020. On March 13, 2020, he activated phase 3.

Phase 1: Pandemic preparedness

  • Mitigation planning and normal monitoring of worldwide pandemic threats
  • This phase is permanently activated unless a higher Phase is active

Phase 2: Pandemic alert

  • Active monitoring of the evolving pandemic threat, with some protective measures adopted
  • This phase is activated by the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)

Phase 3: Pandemic response

  • Activated on order of the CDS, this phase is characterized by widespread and continuous transmission of the virus in the general population and the imminent risk or existence of significant absentee rates   
  • The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) response will be dependent on the disease’s impact in and around the location of CAF elements and requests for assistance to civil authorities

Phase 4: Post pandemic restoration

  • This phase starts when the CDS declares that the pandemic situation has concluded
  • This phase involves the resumption and re-establishment of all DND/CAF services and operations to normal levels
  • This phase transitions back to Phase 1 and coincides with Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) declaring a post-pandemic phase

Joint Task Force-LASER 

Following the activation of phase 3 of Operation LASER, 1st Canadian Division Headquarters, a high-readiness, rapid-response unit based out of Kingston, Ontario, was assigned as Joint Task Force-LASER (JTF-LR).

From mid-March to mid-May, JTF-LR was responsible for the coordination and command of all domestic operations related to Operation LASER and played a critical role in the CAF response to COVID-19 by:

      •     Implementing and monitoring force health protection measures             that preserve CAF operational capabilities; and
      •     Responding to and acting on requests for assistance from             other government departments and agencies.

As of May 13, 2020, these functions have been assumed by the Canadian Joint Operations Command, headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario.

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