On April 7th, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) hosted our inaugural “First Friday” Branch Meeting at the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC), which included presentations from MTO, Georgina Township, and several OFMEM staff. We expanded our audience, normally limited to staff of the EM Branch, and invited GTA-area CEMCs, MEMCs, and federal partners.
But let me back up a little.
As emergency management practitioners, we’ve all heard the phrase “An emergency is not the time to be exchanging business cards.” When we started the process of identifying priority activities for the EM Branch late last year, there was widespread agreement that we should be working as a branch to improve relationships with our stakeholders. Of the four goals ultimately identified in our 2017 Business Plan, two are focused on relationships:
Building trust with our partners is not a “nice to have”, it’s a “must have”. Not only do we need strong relationships during emergency incidents, but as we strive to build Ontario’s “next generation” emergency management system, we know we can’t do it alone.
It was in the pursuit of these goals that our Operations Manager, Jason Redlarksi, suggested that we open up our weekly Branch meetings to our partners once a month. When Branch meetings were first introduced by our Director Mike Morton last October, many of us (myself included) thought “Oh no, not ANOTHER teleconference!” I will gladly eat my words now, as they’ve turned into a highlight of the week. Each meeting follows the weekly Threat and Risk Assessment (TRA) in the PEOC, and 3-5 staff members provide updates on projects they are working on or events they have attended. With many of our staff working remotely, it’s helped ensure everyone is in the loop. The meetings have increased collaboration by connecting our own work with the business plan and the work of our colleagues. With his suggestion, Jason presented another
opportunity for connection – connecting the work we do with that of our partners.
Fast forward to the present.
Operations Manager Jason Redlarski delivering the PEOC Threat Risk Assessment
The first “First Friday” meeting was timed to coincide with the launch of our Emergency Management Visual History project, a photo gallery in the hall outside the PEOC illustrating disasters that have influenced the evolution of emergency management in Ontario. We asked Stephanie Maragna, EM Coordinator for the Ministry of Transportation, to present on the development of MTO’s Heavy Equipment Emergency Mobilization System (HEEMS). Ron Jenkins, the CEMC for Georgina Township, provided an overview of the response to the Georgina Train Derailment in March. OFMEM’s Public Education Officer Aman Kainth shared success stories of the successful #PrepareYourSelfie campaign in preparation for Emergency Preparedness Week, while Amanda Davy provided an update on the re-establishment of the Incident Management System (IMS) Steering Committee. After the meeting presenters and guests were invited to stick around for coffee and networking.
We’ve been thrilled by the feedback we received on this initiative, and are eagerly planning the next “First Friday” meeting, to be held on May 5th. This meeting will feature an update from the NGO Alliance on the exciting work they are doing.
As with many things in EM, our vision for these meetings is still evolving. We want the meetings to be inclusive, accessible and reflective of the diversity of our stakeholders while keeping in mind our limitations of space (the PEOC is big, but not that big!), technology (Our WebEx account limits the number of users who could attend remotely) and location (we’re a little further north now, but still in
Toronto!). We also don’t know — would you all even be interested in attending these meetings? (Trick question, of course you would!) Above all, we want the meetings to provide value to our staff and guests, and we welcome your suggestions. If you’re working on a project, have responded to a recent incident, or are planning an EM-related event and think it would be relevant to OFMEM and our EM partners, please let us know. You can e-mail me at Alexandra.Lawless@ontario.ca.
Alex Lawless, Liaison Officer – Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management