By Alain Normand, Manager, Brampton Emergency Management Office (BEMO)
You all know the story of the carrot and the stick. You use the carrot to encourage the donkey to pull the cart or you use the stick to force the donkey forward. Each option assumes that you have the proper tool, either a carrot or a stick.
A few weeks ago, CEMCs in Ontario received the annual form letter from the Chief of OFMEM reminding us that we needed to work towards being compliant to the Ontario legislation and regulations for emergency management. In 2015, apparently 32% of municipalities were non-compliant.
So now the province is trying to encourage municipalities to follow the regulations but they have no carrot to offer and they never had. There are no incentives for municipalities to be compliant to this legislation. The other option then would be to use a stick but the province doesn’t have a stick either. There is no enforcement and there are no penalties for not being compliant. You get a letter from OFMEM if you are compliant but nothing if you are not; big deal, right?
Actually, the professionals in the Ontario emergency management community have been telling the province for years that the legislation and the regulations are wrong. There are many inconsistencies, useless actions, and poorly defined requirements.
Take the critical infrastructure identification for example. If you base your definition of critical infrastructure on the sectors suggested, you need to include food as a critical need and all infrastructure related to food production and distribution should be on that list. All CEMCs should then have a list of all farmers, grocery stores, and other food-handling companies in the municipality. The list should contain emergency phone numbers for each and be maintained at least annually. However, once we have the list, there is no indication of when we should use it and how. Since 99% of the critical infrastructure is in the hands of private entreprise, CEMCs have no power to enforce any kind of critical infrastructure protection. So why are we doing this?
Take public education as another example. The regulation says we have to do public education in our community. There is no clear definition of what public education should include. So having a web page with a couple of suggestions on personal preparedness could in principle be enough to fulfill the requirement.
On the other hand, when it comes to training, the requirements are very stringent with a list of course that must be taken by key people. These courses must be offered by EMO certified trainers and must follow the EMO curriculum to the letter. The fact that municipalities have very different structures especially when rural communities are compared to large urban ones, implies that the one size fits all approach of these courses does not work, yet all CEMCs must follow exactly the same training program.
There are also inconsistencies in the regulation when trying to apply the IMS model. The regulation talks about having a control group and suggest that members of the senior management of the community should be part of this group. However, looking at IMS, there is a big difference between the control group and the policy group. The first is composed of the leaders of each of the various teams within the IMS along with the EOC director, the PIO, and a few select advisors such as the solicitor. The policy group is where senior management should be sitting with a few other key players.
So being compliant is very much left up to interpretation. In my community, we have been providing scribe training for a number of years. We realized after a few exercises and a couple of real emergencies that trying to keep notes and logs while making decisions and coordinating action plans is nearly impossible. In decision-making positions, the priority is on taking action and giving instructions, not on log-keeping. So the logs and notes are often incomplete. To remedy this, we created scribe positions in our EOC and ensured that designated scribes received the proper training. We brought in consultants to train on a one-day course with an exercise scenario and a mock inquiry. Currently we have about 40 staff members that have received this training. This approach frees up the CEMCs and other key decision-makers while still ensuring a high level of log-keeping and documentation.
The Elliot Lake Inquiry report addressed the issue of incomplete note-taking and recommended actions to ensure a higher level of note-taking for all emergency response and emergency management functions. In reaction to these recommendations, the province created a 10 slide course called note-taking. That course became mandatory without any consultation. When my community submitted that we did not require the note-taking course because we had a different approach as explained above, someone at OFMEM arbitrarily decided that our approach was unacceptable and included our community in the 32% of non-compliant communities.
So what? I believe my community is more than compliant because we have gone beyond the requirements of the regulations. Most of what the legislation and regulation demands in Ontario is actually very basic. Back in 2001, the plan was to bring in three levels of emergency management programs, an essential level, and enhanced level, and a comprehensive level. It would be up to the municipality to determine how much resources they were ready to commit to achieve the second and third levels while the first was going to be mandatory. Fifteen years later, the province is still trying to get a grasp of what should be in the essential level. Fortunately a number of municipalities have gone beyond the essential and are actually implementing elements of what was considered for the other two levels. That’s called due diligence.
The good thing with due diligence is that there is no need for a carrot or a stick. When the donkey needs to eat, drink or get away from the heat, it will naturally move forward. Communities that voluntarily adopt enhanced or comprehensive emergency management programs, have no need for carrots or sticks.
My suggestion for 2016 is this. If instead of having 32% of municipalities in Ontario being on-compliant, we actually have all communities – that’s 100% – simply refuse to submit a compliance form. Maybe we will get a bit more attention from the Ministry. We can then ask the province to sit down with the CEMCs at a general meeting and agree to modify the regulation to fit accepted principles of emergency management rather than arbitrary and reactionary provisions. Instead of creating regulations that need all sorts of interpretation, let’s sit down as a profession and come up with a plan to make Ontario communities resilient without needing carrots or sticks.