Operation PALACI is Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) support for the Parks Canada program to control avalanches in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. Rogers Pass is where the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway cross the Selkirk Mountains. The goal of the mission is to stop avalanches from occurring naturally. If avalanches take place in Rogers Pass, they can block essential roads and railways between British Columbia and the rest of Canada.
Operation PALACI is run under an agreement between the Department of National Defence (DND) and Parks Canada. Rogers Pass is on federal land because it is in Glacier National Park.
The CAF's annual support to Parks Canada's avalanche control program began November 21 and is expected to continue into April 2021.
How many people are deployed?
From November to April, the CAF sends two groups of 15 to 20 artillery members on Operation PALACI. They can come from both Regular and Reserve Force artillery units. Each group serves for about half the season.
What are they doing?
The Royal Canadian Artillery has been key to the world's largest mobile avalanche-control program for more than 50 years.
Parks Canada scientists monitor and evaluate the snow conditions in Rogers Pass. They predict when and where avalanches are most likely to occur. When they identify a potential avalanche, they give the location to the artillery task force.
Gun crews fire from 17 positions along the Trans-Canada Highway. They use 105-mm howitzer field guns. These are modified for precision firing from roadside platforms.
The gunners direct their fire on registered targets. The distances range from three to five kilometres. They use explosive shells to trigger safe, controlled avalanches. This prevents snow build-up that would produce dangerous, uncontrolled avalanches.
The highway and the rail line are closed to traffic before each shoot, and each one is done with caution. When each shoot is completed, the fallen snow is cleared from the route. It is then opened to traffic again.
History and context of the operation
Rogers Pass is a shortcut for the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway. It cuts across the "Big Bend" of the Columbia River between Revelstoke and Donald, British Columbia.
The pass is at 1,330 metres above sea level. It has an average annual snow accumulation of 12 metres. It is the site of frequent avalanches. Between 1885 and 1916, more than 250 railway workers died there due to avalanches. Today, Rogers Pass has more than 130 avalanche paths that cross the Trans-Canada Highway. It has the highest avalanche rating of any major road in North America.
The traffic in Rogers Pass in winter can reach 4,000 motor vehicles and 40 trains per day. There is a high value placed on keeping these road and rail links open all year. The commercial traffic between coastal British Columbia and the rest of Canada has been calculated in the billions of dollars.
Department of National Defence
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