Within a brief career span thus far, I have had the pleasure of serving the Emergency Management community in various capacities: an emergency responder/hazardous materials technician responding to confined space entry rescue needs across Ontario and hazardous materials events throughout the country; a technical advisor informing public and private stakeholders of current health and safety practices and providing technical chemical knowledge; an environmental scientist developing strategic emergency preparedness initiatives alongside an innovative team to further enhance emergency management across Canada; a member of local Community Awareness and Emergency Response groups working for a safe and informed public; a Chair on the Board of Directors for the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers offering strategic guidance to the organization.
It is through these interdisciplinary channels that I have interfaced with great leaders and mentors to which I owe a lot of my continued growth and development to. One transferable quality that I have witnessed in many emergency management professionals can simply be summarized into one word: compassion.
It is this innate sense of compassion that drives those throughout our emergency management community to serve others; a desire to help. It is through shared volunteer experiences with esteemed colleagues serving a variety of industries and public, and engagement with great intellects surrounding this topic, that I encourage emergency management professionals to not only hold on to that sense of compassion, but to challenge yourselves to view the profession as a community based process in which we all serve in various ways; to continue to build resiliency throughout our physical infrastructure and its social constructs.
There are a number of ways to engage with diverse community members. Working with refugees one might learn from their courage, strength, and resolve when faced with unimaginable adversity. Youth organizations and leaders of tomorrow might teach us something about creativity and passion. Special populations encompass the margins of our society, each with a unique set of needs that necessitate dependency and varied resiliency across communities, illustrating a need for a flexible, robust emergency management system. In a broader global sense, international humanitarian efforts can enhance cultural intelligence and offer an appreciation for innovation when resources are scarce.
The indirect correlation between the aforementioned volunteer efforts and the profession of emergency management is the ability to recognize the community in which one serves (local and/or global) in all its adversity and strength before an emergency or a disaster strikes. To cultivate an aptitude for our physical infrastructure as well as our social construction pre-emergency or disaster will enhance the overall intellect of emergency management professionals and diversify the interoperability between the emergency management community and the communities in which we serve.
The next cohort of emergency managers had an opportunity to get their feet wet earlier this month.
On March 12 and 13, 21 professionals and students—both undergraduate and graduate—from emergency management programs at Sheridan College and York University successfully completed IMS 200: Basic Incident Management System. The event was a joint effort offered by OAEM and the Disaster and Emergency Management Student Association (DEMSA) from York University.
“The course was a great initiative and success,” said DEMSA Chair Zalma Sahar. “We received a lot of positive feedback from all of the students. We’re hoping to have more certification courses like this available at YorkU to better equip our students to become great emergency managers in the field.”
Led by OAEM Vice President Mike O’Brien and York University MDEM graduate, Magda Sulzycki, participants were introduced to the process of commanding a simple incident, while learning about and implementing the key principles of IMS. Participants acted as the operations section within the IMS structure and worked through a case study based on a real incident, applying their knowledge through the creation of an Incident Action Plan.
Focusing on the response phase of an ever-changing incident, students were asked to prioritize response outcomes and allocate limited resources to achieve their goals. The hands-on experience this workshop provides introduced students to challenges they would likely face as professional emergency managers and useful tools for overcoming such challenges.
The event also allowed emergency management students of different institutions to network, learn with each other, and learn from one another. For students, the opportunity to learn from Mr. O’Brien and Ms. Sulzycki was particularly invaluable, given the facilitators’ combined years of professional and academic emergency management experience.
Both facilitators used anecdotes from their professional experiences to illuminate concepts and problems posed by the case study. DEMSA Chair Zalma Sahar says that certification courses like IMS 200 are imperative for emergency management students to understand how the concepts and theories they learn in school operate in the “real” world.
Community Awareness & Emergency Response (CAER) is a community based volunteer organization comprised of local industry, service-related businesses and municipal Emergency Response and Management Services in order to enhance community awareness and response throughout various municipalities across the Province of Ontario. Member companies within each CAER group participate in local community outreach and emergency planning activities to reduce the risk of emergency situations and raise public awareness so that communities can effectively deal with a potential emergency event.
CAER is a registered trademark of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC). A major initiative of the CIAC is adhering to the ethic and principles of responsible care, which is the chemistry industry’s commitment to sustainable stewardship. Through outreach to the public, CAER aims for an informed public regarding chemical manufacturing facilities and community emergency response plans which take into account the presence of chemical facilities throughout local communities.
General Application to Emergency Management
Local CAER groups are active in communities across the Province of Ontario (prominent in the Golden Horseshoe) and play an integral part in emergency preparedness partnerships and local response interoperability. We encourage active parties’ within the emergency management profession to engage local CAER groups and become a part of the aforementioned initiatives to expand professional networks and further enhance the profession.
The recent active shooter attacks in La Loche, Saskatchewan, San Bernardino, California, and Paris, France are brutal reminders that none of us are immune to disasters. Unfortunately but realistically, domestic terrorism and active shooter incidents are just some of the new and emerging threats communities and organizations now face and must be prepared for.
As disaster planners, it’s easy to get lost in the planning process, while sometimes losing sight of our ultimate objective – to ensure the safety and security of the people who work for us, live in our communities, frequent our establishments. This blog entry’s intent is to shift our focus back to where it needs to be–on supporting the people directly affected after a disaster or crisis.
Stars of HOPE help San Bernardino heal
After last month’s terror attack in San Bernardino, California, I found out that one of the disaster heroes featured in my book, Jeff Parness, founder of the Stars of HOPE project, was looking to deploy a team of volunteers to bring hope and healing to the community. I knew immediately it was something I had to be a part of, and I made my way to San Bernardino the following week to join a small team of volunteers from across America (most of whom were disaster survivors themselves) to be part of an incredible project that is helping the community heal to this day. Immediately following the attack, Jeff and the Stars of HOPE team enlisted schoolchildren, community groups, companies, family members and friends from across America to paint brightly-colored messages of hope, love and support on wooden 1-foot wooden stars to be hung up across San Bernardino throughout the holidays.
While I was familiar with the Stars of HOPE Project and its role over the years in helping communities heal following disasters across the globe, I had no idea just how much of an impact such a small, simple gesture like painting and hanging wooden stars with messages of love, hope, and support from across the world could help an entire community rebuild emotionally following such a tragedy.
Since our return, our team has received incredibly touching, heartwarming and heart-wrenching thank-you letters, emails and phone calls from victims’ families, survivors, and even the Mayor of San Bernardino, R. Carey Davis: “Our community was impacted by the Stars of HOPE that you personally delivered to San Bernardino. San Bernardino is fortunate to have supporters like you who care to bring messages of hope and calm in times of chaos. As we continue to move forward, we will carry the message of hope that you’ve brought with the stars. Your contribution, your willingness to serve, and your generosity have significantly impacted the morale of our community.”
We also received an extremely emotional and touching email from one of the survivors in the room that day, who sought us out and wanted to thank us and let us know that seeing some of the stars hung by the site when she returned to work provided her with some hope that things will get better. Seeing the outpouring of prayers and support sent from families and communities from across the country helped her heal—an incredible, tangible example of why we need to put more focus on emotional health and well-being in the days, weeks, and months following a crisis. Stars of HOPE is now working with her, and others in the community, to return to San Bernardino to organize a Stars of HOPE painting event for survivors and the community to ‘pay it forward’ while continuing on their path to healing.
Supporting a community’s emotional recovery is crucial after a crisis
After witnessing the immediate and incredible impact of Stars of HOPE in San Bernardino, I can attest that this is tangible proof that supporting the community’s emotional health and well-being after a crisis is just as important as the physical recovery process. As such, we must ensure our recovery plans include how we intend to delivery ongoing emotional support to survivors and community members after a disaster. Listing some simple, yet creative and extremely impactful examples like implementing a Stars of HOPE project would help immensely with the community’s healing process.
What the media didn’t show
While our volunteer team arrived in San Bernardino less than two weeks after the terror attack, media coverage on how the community was coping by then had dwindled to next to nothing, the media’s focus instead on the ‘war on terror’, the perpetrators, and the issue of gun control.
Meanwhile, there was, and is, so much more going on within that community that the media has not shown–like local pastors Ernie Ceballos and Jose Gamez, who spent every day following the attack at a memorial set up near the site of the tragedy, leading survivors, victims’ family members and friends, and residents in regular prayer circles, holding barbecues, and acting as a central gathering site where community members could come together to heal and commemorate the victims.
We saw many other memorials around the community, including a very touching one located in the Mayor’s office, where a Star of HOPE painted by a scout troop in North Alabama is now displayed. Wherever we went, we delivered Stars of HOPE – to this day, stars can be found all across San Bernardino, including in the homes and establishments of some of those directly impacted by the tragedy.
Disaster Heroes are everywhere
When I told Jeff Parness that I wanted to volunteer for the San Bernardino Stars of HOPE project, I had no idea what I was signing up for, or who I would end up meeting. In the end, I would make new friendships with incredible disaster survivors from across America, who now pay it forward to other communities by organizing and delivering Stars of HOPE to areas impacted by disaster.
One of those volunteers was Matt Deighton from Kansas, who lost everything following a deadly EF5 tornado that destroyed 95% of his town. All that remained was his beloved Dalmatian, Molly. The two would end up not only helping their own community heal, but would go on to help communities across America heal following similar disasters. But… that’s another blog. Matt’s story is so captivating and touching that I will be devoting my entire next blog entry to share his and Molly’s incredible story.
In the meantime, I encourage everyone to check out the Stars of HOPE website and Facebook page to see how easily YOU can send hope and love to disaster survivors across the world.
In the wake of the November 13th Terror attacks in Paris, a state of Emergency was declared. This state of emergency was extended for 3 months, and is set to expire of Feb 26th 2016. This weekend saw tensions flare, as several thousand citizens took to the streets in 70 cities across France to protest these emergency measures.
In doing so, they have highlighted some important considerations for emergency managers.
Declarations of Emergency
A state of emergency can be declared by any level of government, federal, provincial or municipal, and is a tool used to give authorities additional or altered powers to act in emergency situations. In Canada, the Emergencies Act, successor to the War Measures Act of 1988, defines ‘reasonable and justified’ temporary measures to help ensure the and security of Canadians during national emergencies. It also enables to government to limit the civil rights of citizens, though such measures are subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In addition to amending the powers and abilities of authorities, a state of emergency also alerts citizens to change their normal behavior and triggers the implementation of specialized emergency plans, procedures or actions. For example, in the unlikely case of a Nuclear meltdown in Ontario, a declaration of emergency would allow the implementation of emergency powers. Such powers could help enforce the evacuation of individuals and animals, regulate or prohibit movement within affected areas and otherwise facilitate the implementation of Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan and related response.
Meanwhile, in France
The situation in France has an interesting history; the last time a National State of Emergency was called was November 2005, when the death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, sparked countrywide riots. Before that, such orders had been limited to colonies; New Caledonia in 1984 and in 1955, 58 and 61, during the Algerian War.
While the current state of emergency has enabled the government to rapidly address security concerns by tightening border security, deploying hundreds of additional police and military personnel and searching homes without a warrant, the patience of the French citizenry with such invasive measures seems to be running out.
While security measures in the immediate aftermath of the November attacks was generally interpreted and necessary and even reassuring, the public has also been subject to a number of other controls meant to help keep them safe, and enable authorities to track the suspects, who remain at large. These include the cancellation of of school trips, bans to protests and public gatherings, placing people under house arrest without trial, and blocking websites. While these tools are undoubtedly aiding the French authorities as they fight both the obvious terrorist threat, as well as many other current concerns to national security, civil rights activists are concerned that the powers have gone too far.
Thousands took to the streets this weekend in 70 cities across France, in an effort to highlight their concern that the powers used to take swift and decisive action in the wake of the deadly November attacks, are no longer needed. Furthermore, they argue that the robust collection of existing surveillance and counter-terrorism legislation would be sufficient to enable authorities to carry out the investigation and ensure public safety, without the need for a continued state of emergency.
Whether the line has been crossed is a sensitive, and potentially volatile issue. While currently 79% of the population support the ongoing state of emergency, France is walking a difficult path. It will continue to do so in the face of cumulative serious national security threats, including the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Indeed, many western nations have already experienced a taste of the complex issues which follow actual or perceived limits to civil liberty. Such topics are naturally liked to questions of national security, and therefore Emergency Management.
Lessons to be learned
The ability of nations to deal with such issues is not singularly informed by experience with acts of terror. Canada has already had a taste of the issues and sensitivity of the public in the face of surveillance laws, not to mention controversial implementation of the War Measures Act. Lessons can undoubtedly be taken from these and other experiences. Indeed, Canada could be faced with drastically more complex ethical, constitutional and legal dilemmas in the face of serious emergency situations in the future. This is especially likely if the rate of terrorist attacks continues to rise. In the meantime, emergency management policy makers, planners and responders should watch and learn from our allies with interest.
This article was originally posted by Sarah Thompson on LinkedIn.
I’ve been a meteorologist with Environment Canada for over 32 years and I can’t recall having two months in one calendar year where temperature records were shattered as badly as they were in February and December of 2015. In February of 2015, the talk was of brutal cold with mean temperatures, province-wide, running 5 to 9 degrees below normal. Locations across the province broke their records for coldest February by whole degrees. Normally records of this type are broken by fractions of a degree, especially in places where weather records go back a number of decades.
One glance at the deep blue colours on the temperature anomaly map of Canada for February shows how widespread the cold was from Manitoba through Ontario and Quebec and deep into the eastern part of the United States.
Exactly why this prolonged onslaught of arctic air descended over eastern North America is still not known but the irony was that Siberia had a milder than normal February while we shivered on the other side of the world. It was almost as if they exported their winter to us and not many were happy with the result.
As cold as February was this past December was just as record-setting but in the opposite direction.
In many parts of the province almost every single day during the month of December was warmer than normal. Most areas in the province experienced temperatures that were 5 to 9 degrees above normal, basically the total opposite of what happened 10 months earlier.
Forecasters had expected this past fall and this winter to be somewhat milder normal due to a very strong El Nino event. An El Nino event occurs when temperatures are notably warmer than normal in the equatorial Pacific to the west of South America for a prolonged period of time. El Nino events tend to occur every 2 to 7 years. Historically, El Nino conditions have led to a generally milder than normal fall/winter for Ontario.
While November was somewhat warmer than normal and the models were indicating that December would be as well, the sheer level of the warmth in December ended up being unprecedented. Again, across the province, records tumbled including the record for the City of Toronto where observations began back in 1840.
There were likely other factors at play that led to the level of warmth experienced but there is little doubt that El Nino was part of the equation. The temperature anomaly map for December shows a sea of deep red from Manitoba through Ontario and Quebec and a chunk of the American Mid-West and New England.
With January now already a couple weeks old, it has become apparent that we won’t be seeing a repeat of the record warmth of December. After a few mild days, most of the province got some colder than normal temperatures and the rest of the month looks like we’ll be bouncing from milder than normal to colder than normal conditions. Good news for the skiers, snowmobilers and ice fishers…not so much for those that hoped the unrelenting warmth would continue into January.
OAEM has set up a pilot mentorship scheme for college and university students based in Ontario who are studying in an emergency management educational program. We currently have an initial group of student applicants interested in becoming mentees, and we have a small team of mentors, who have kindly volunteered their time and expertise. However we need additional mentors and welcome applications from OAEM members interesting in becoming mentors from January to April 2016.
The OAEM Education Committee will provide help to both mentors and mentees in establishing the relationship. Monthly contact between mentors and mentees is expected via phone or Skype and augmented by face-to-face meetings.
If you are currently working in emergency management or business continuity in the public, private or not-for-profit sectors and would like to guide and develop the next generation of emergency management practitioners, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or complete an online form via the following link:
The Association welcomes and appreciates the participation of our members interested in helping with this exciting initiative. If you have any questions, please contact email@example.com and one of the Education Committee members will be happy to help.
In Ontario, Municipalities are governed under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and are mandated to practice emergency response plans. The benefits of practicing plans however far surpass simply achieving compliancy.
Municipalities host mock training exercises and update their plans annually to define roles and responsibilities, bring light to any gaps in the plan, or highlight changes in services from other supporting agencies and essentially allow leaders to assess, evaluate and amend thier plans if needed.
Earlier this month, the Town of Cochrane hosted a mock training exercise titled “Operation Designate.” Some key participants included the Porcupine Public Health Unit, Ontario Provincial Police, EMS, Cochrane Telcom Services, Public Works Canadian Red Cross, Lady Minto Hospital, Cochrane Fire Department, Cochrane Water and Sewer and the Mayor—all hosted by the Community Emergency Management Coordinator.
The scenario was a water main pipe that was being changed did not get chlorinated, resulting in epidemic-like symptoms for residents. Early in the scenario, the Emergency Control Group convened to discuss how to handle the impending crisis.
Agencies collaborated to decide what services they could provide at various stages of the scenario, which also provided an opportunity to share agency expertise and best practices.
The exercise was hosted by the Cochrane Fire Department, which also acted as the Emergency Operations Centre. In true spirit of testing, the exercise was facilitated with the emergency generator providing power to the building. A unique twist was that the key players where to bring their designate who participated with the Emergency Control Group. Quite often in the field of emergency management, agencies, practices, plans, policies and resources or services change from organization to organization.
It is valuable time spent to sit as a group and to practice your emergency response plan. Perhaps there are new key players to add to your team? Local resources may have been added or removed. Hazards and response time need to be identified and evaluated.
When was the last time that you practiced your plan?
After 911, security mitigation and preparedness was high on the list of most critical infrastructure owners, and the water sector was no exception. Here in Canada, the move had already begun to develop a national critical infrastructure framework and national database that water utilities, both public and private, could use to access and share information related to security and emergency management.
Although very debilitating, intentional impacts from acts of violence or terrorism are not the only hazards that can negatively impact the production and distribution of a water supply. As physical security protection and site safety processes were improving, impacts from identified hazards such as water contamination, infectious disease, and catastrophic infrastructure failure were additional areas that needed attention. Luckily, taking an “all-hazards” approach allows for the use of processes, procedures, and response plans to be utilized across any organization regardless of the mechanism, as the impact is invariably the same.
Like most major Canadian cities, Calgary is situated near a waterway, both to its benefit and demise as the city’s downtown core is at the confluence of two separate rivers; the Bow and Elbow.
From a redundancy perspective, Calgary couldn’t have been situated any better as each river has its own source and watershed ensuring (for the most part) that there should always be at least one available water source for the population. Alternatively, the fact is that either river could flood during any given year, or worse yet, they could both flood at the same time.
Understanding potential impacts from technological, intentional, or natural hazards supported the development of holistic response and recovery planning, including a water-specific tactical operations centre known as the the H2OC.
This facility allowed the members of the management team a space to gather when certain triggers or parameters were met that had been previously defined through a Threat, Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA). Water emergency management representatives would gather due to water quality, security, system, or flooding emergencies to monitor and support responders, coordinate communications, and prioritize long and short-term objectives.
In a span of less than 18 months, from January 2004 to June 2005, the water sector in Calgary would experience a loss of a major feedermain impacting more than 100,000 residents, and a 200-year flood that would cause evacuations of several thousand people. The newly formed Water Emergency Response Teams and the H2OC would be turning their training into reality.
The feedermain failure was a stark reminder to all regarding the interdependencies of critical infrastructure, as transportation routes were closed, hospitals were implementing evacuation procedures, and emergency service responders was delayed. In addition, water quality and communication response plans were put to the test. The emergency management team was put through the processes and procedures of how to function within an emergency operations centre environment, and improvements were made to the plans along the way. All of this contributed to the success of the response to the 2005 “Flood of the Century.” This flood had major impacts on water quality and production, and laid the groundwork for mitigation and preparedness for the next time a flood might occur.
The success of the response and recovery procedures during operations of the H2OC supported further creation of additional Tactical Operations Centres throughout the corporation. Police, Fire, Water and Transportation began initiating the process of developing emergency and continuity programs within their own business unit. This post 2005 flood era provided an opportunity to research and develop a corporate model that would support the all-hazards approach and lessons learned from H2OC activations.