Comparatively speaking, emergency management is a fairly new field. There is still a great deal of information to be uncovered and best practices to be developed. This can be rather daunting or exciting depending on your point of view. There are often opportunities to make improvements even in established practices, such as hazard identification and risk assessment. Hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA) is regarded to be the foundation of an effective emergency management program as shown in the Emergency Management Doctrine for Ontario (Emergency Management Ontario, 2010).

The revision of the HIRA provided the ideal opportunity to seek out new ways of improving the methodology. One of the ongoing issues in emergency management is the need to integrate knowledge from practitioners and academics since each side can provide invaluable insights. To pull from both areas, a literature review was done that included both scientific journal articles and research and current risk assessment practices. This was followed by an extensive consultation process that included subject matter experts on each of the hazards and Ministry Emergency Management Coordinators within Ministries that had Order in Council designations. The outcome of this was the identification of gaps in many current risk assessment practices and potential solutions that could be built into the new HIRA.

The first gap was the identification of new hazards. In some instances these were emerging hazards, like geomagnetic storms that were not previously included due to a general lack of awareness of their potential for damage. Others, such as cyber-attacks, had not been previously differentiated from other categories of hazards. A third hazard, natural space object crash, was added after further consultation with a subject matter expert established that this hazard had a very different frequency and potential impacts from the already identified human-caused space object crash.

The second gap was the ability for a risk assessment tool to be proactive. Many risk assessments are based on historical data. While historical data is important in any risk assessment, it does have limitations. The main issue is that the past is not always indicative of the future. Factors such as climate change, changes in technology, and changes in vulnerability result in significant alterations in risk profiles and are not captured by using solely historic data. Another limitation with historic data is that it often fails to adequately capture hazards with long return periods, especially when the historic records only go back a couple hundred years. While a HIRA is not intended to be a predictive tool, it is required to present a current view of the hazards and risks. To address this, a third variable was added to the standard risk = frequency*consequence equation in the Provincial HIRA methodology. This third variable, ‘changing risk’ attempts to include factors such as changes in vulnerabilities and anticipated changes in frequency.

The third gap was the need to include psychosocial impacts. The damaging psychosocial impacts of disasters have been well documented in the scientific literature (i.e.Gleser et al. 2013, Warsini et al. 2014). However, a review of current risk assessment practices found that this impact is rarely included, despite being well accepted as an impact of disaster. Psychosocial impact was added as a subcategory of the consequence variable in the revised methodology to ensure its inclusion.

Overall, the ability to draw from knowledge from both practitioners and academics was immensely beneficial. It allowed for the identification of gaps in the previous methods and provided solutions that resulted in a more accurate picture of the risk. The integration of these two areas of knowledge is what allowed the revised methodology to become recognized as a best practice. Further opportunities to draw upon both areas of expertise should be explored within emergency management as it can result in a more effective and complete product.

References

Emergency Management Ontario. (2010). Emergency Management Doctrine for Ontario. Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Government of Ontario.

Gleser, G. C., Green, B. L., & Winget, C. (2013). Prolonged psychosocial effects of disaster: A study of Buffalo Creek (Vol. 25). Elsevier.

Warsini, S., West, C., Res Meth, G. C., Mills, J., & Usher, K. (2014). The psychosocial impact of natural disasters among adult survivors: an integrative review. Issues in mental health nursing, 35(6), 420-436.

While the likelihood of a community experiencing a dam failure is low, the potential consequences can be catastrophic. Dam breaches can inundate communities unexpectedly, imposing immediate life and safety risks, devastating infrastructure, creating irreversible damage to the environment and the social fabric of a community.

Ontario Power Generation engages with the regulator, host communities and other stakeholders to build a common understanding of dam safety risks. Through forums created in developing plans, hosting stakeholder meetings and executing tabletop and full scale exercises, risks associated with dams are effectively mitigated. These partnerships can result in better community infrastructure plans, mitigation measures, coordinated response capabilities and support in recovery operations. Exercises conducted frequently incorporate mock social media injects to engage staff with a modern, realistic situation that they should be prepared to respond to.

The photo shows a mock YouTube video posted by an employee with a photoshopped image of an emerging dam failure. Similar injects provided to all stakeholders, for example, of mock weather forecasts, enhances the element of realism that encourages partnership and participation in future exercises.

 

One of the building blocks of emergency management is the risk analysis that is used to determine how priorities are set for disaster risk reduction activities. There are a variety of approaches that are used ranging from simple exercises involving little time and resources, to very large and complicated ones. An example of the former is a workshop where informed people create a HIRA using a hazard probability and consequence chart based upon their experience and intuition; an example of the latter is the use of sophisticated risk assessment software such as the catastrophe (CAT) models used by the insurance industry.

Common to all methods is the issue of what range of scenarios should be considered. Arguments can be made (and often are) to exclude worst-case scenarios or events that are very rare (though potentially catastrophic), including their very low probability, the difficulty in determining probability or consequence, or their tendency to make policy makers ‘throw up their hands’ in terms of addressing them. One has to wonder though, how much error is introduced by their exclusion. If it is relatively small then it might not matter, but if it is large then excluding them is a bad idea.

This blog will present support for the inclusion of the full range of risk scenarios, including worst-case events, in a disaster risk analysis. Though there are both theoretical and empirical arguments to support this assertion, this blog will only consider observational data. A fuller paper including theoretical aspects of the issue is being developed for publication (more information on the theoretical arguments can be found by doing a literature search on power laws and fat tails in statistical distributions).

To illustrate this issue, consider the list of billion dollar weather disasters in the United States published by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There are 146 events in this list (as of June 23, 2015), with a total cost of $1,015 billion U.S. (2014 dollars). Figure 1 presents these events rank ordered, with rank 1 being the most costly (Table 1). In this data set the top five events account for one-third of the total cost of the 146 events.

Figure 1_Etkin

Figure 1: % Cost of U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disasters. Note how the vast majority of the events are relatively small, while a few very large ones account for much of the total impacts.

Table 1_Etkin

Table 1: The five most costly U.S. billion dollar weather disasters

It is clear that the top few events are of great importance to a risk analysis of U.S. weather disasters, and this is because the distribution has what is called a fat or long tail. This type of distribution, when presented in a histogram format (Figure 2) shows a very large number of relatively small events, with a few very large ones.

Figure 2_Etkin

Figure 2: Histogram of U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disasters (1980-2014). Costs are in ranges of $20 billion, starting at $1-20 billion. Disasters of less than $1 billion are not included.

This kind of distribution is typical of disaster data sets. By contrast, a normal or Gaussian distribution (also commonly known as the bell curve) has a graph similar to the example in Figures 3. Note how in this case the most common event lies near the middle of the range instead of at one end, and the largest few ranked events do not account for a very large proportion of the total number of deaths, in contrast to Figure 1.

Figure 3a_Etkin

Figure 3a:  Monthly Driver Deaths in the United Kingdom (1969-1984). This data set is approximately normally distributed (it is somewhat skewed to the right with a slightly extended tail towards higher deaths) with a sample size of 192 months, mean of 1670 deaths and standard deviation of 290. Source: Rdatasets: An archive of data sets distributed with R. https://vincentarelbundock.github.io/Rdatasets/datasets.html

Figure 3b_Etkin

Figure 3b: Monthly Driver Deaths in the United Kingdom (1969-1984), rank ordered. In contrast to the disaster data sets shown in Figure 1, the top few events located in the slightly elongated tail contribute relatively little to total deaths.

The normal or Gaussian distribution is an example of a distribution that has narrow tails, which means that the frequency of extreme events decreases rapidly at the tail ends of the curve.  Clearly, in the case of fat tails, it is more important for a risk analysis to consider extremes and worst-case scenarios. This has important implications for disaster risk analyses since disaster data tend to have fat tails the extreme events in the tail of the distribution (the worst cases) should be included in a risk analysis if it is not to be unrealistically biased towards low values.

 

Student committees

The Education Committee is currently looking for student members to join our committee. We are looking for enthusiastic students from across Ontario who are studying an EM educational program (in Ontario or in other locations) to join the committee. Each eligible post-secondary institution with an EM-related educational program is able to send TWO student representatives to join the committee.

Please register your interest via the following link: https://adminpipap.wufoo.com/forms/oaem-student-committee-nomination-form/

The committee will meet once a semester to develop initiatives that will build cooperation and opportunities for students and the EM community. We will be closing applications for membership of the committee on 06 November. If you have any questions, please email education@oaem.ca

Student Mentorship Scheme

OAEM will be establishing a pilot mentorship scheme for college and university students based in Ontario who are studying an EM educational program. We currently have several mentors who have expressed an interest in providing guidance to college and university students and we want to match these mentors with students who have similar interests and who would benefit from their assistance. Please be aware that all students participating in the scheme must be current members of the Association. If you would like to participate in the mentorship scheme, please complete the application link below by Friday 06 November: https://adminpipap.wufoo.com/forms/mentorship-application-form/

Once the initial results have been analyzed, we will contact successful applicants about the second stage of the application process. The aim is for mentors and mentees to be in contact from late November and for the first scheme to run from January – April 2016. OAEM also welcomes and appreciates the participation of any working professionals who would like to be mentors and they are able to apply via this link: https://adminpipap.wufoo.com/forms/mentors-application-form/

If you have any questions, please contact education@oaem.ca and one of the Education Committee members will be happy to help.

October 22, 2014 will live in the minds of Canadians for a long time. On that day, Corporal Nathan Cirillo tragically lost his life. The perpetrator of this heinous murder then attacked the halls of our Parliament building and was eventually shot and killed. These events highlight the dangers that terrorism and lone actors can pose, and they have raised a number of questions about the security arrangements on Parliament Hill.

On Wednesday, June 3, 2015, the Independent Investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Into the RCMP Security Posture on Parliament Hill was released, alongside a number of other reports on the events of October 22. There were quite a few recommendations within these reports, some of which were redacted for security reasons. Two key recommendations for an effective security response that were identified have cropped up time and again in The Conference Board of Canada’s security and emergency management work:

  1. Communications Interoperability

The issue of communications interoperability in Canada has been discussed for a number of years—in particular, how they pertain to first responders. This is a fundamental requirement for organizations to be able to work together, especially in a crisis or emergency situation. The lack of effective communications interoperability has been cited numerous times as a key reason behind poor emergency and security responses across the globe.

The RCMP, House of Commons Security Service, and Senate Protective Services all use different communication systems, managed by three distinct communication centres. Shockingly, the three main security forces in and around Parliament Hill did not have effective interoperable communications in place. This created unnecessary delays and fuelled confusion when building situational awareness of the unfolding emergency on October 22.

The House of Commons Incident Response Summary states that the Senate and House Protective Services have now combined their radio communications, but challenges remain with regard to communications interoperability with the RCMP. We should remember that merely having the capacity to communicate across agencies is not enough—you also need pre-existing relationships across organizations to make this work effectively when it matters.

  1. Strong Partnerships

The Ontario Provincial Police’s report highlighted the fact that the RCMP and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) had an excellent working relationship that stood the test of the crisis on October 22. Both the RCMP and OPS have a history of joint exercises and training, allowing them to become familiar with each other’s operational procedures and build informal relationships. The OPP report points out, however, that this strong relationship was not present between the RCMP and the House of Commons Security Service and Senate Protective Services.

The use of training and exercises to build strong working relationships that can withstand a crisis was highlighted as a key reason behind the success of the Boston Marathon Bombing response, where multiple responding agencies worked together. It should never be assumed that just because organizations share a similar background, such as policing or security, they will immediately and effectively collaborate in a crisis. The events surrounding the response to the Elliot Lake Mall collapse demonstrated this.

Therefore, building strong partnerships beforehand remains absolutely crucial, especially in a shared security environment, such as Parliament Hill.

While there are a lot of recommendations in the recently published reviews and reports surrounding the events of October 22 on Parliament Hill, these are two linked issues that particularly stand out. Being able to effectively communicate across responding agencies and having the strong, trusted relationships in place that make it easy to work together are fundamental requirements for an effective emergency response.

This post originally appeared on The Conference Board of Canada’s website.

Digital humanitarians use technology to provide “…aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies.” Organized into global networks called Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs), similar to online communities like Wikipedia, they congregate to provide skills in areas including information technology, emergency management (EM), mapping and communications during emergencies to facilitate response. They create maps, assess building damage, build missing person lists, monitor and aggregate data around crisis, among a plethora of other services. Offering the opportunity to volunteer prior to, during, or post a crisis, from the comfort of our your home, a time commitment to fit any schedule, and a cause and initiative for almost any skill set, digital humanitarianism is lowering the barriers to entry in the humanitarian space and sparking a movement on a global scale.

What is their impact? 

The impacts of VTCs are profound. As demonstrated in Haiti, for example, the crisis mapper community coordinated imagery and mapping activities. The disaster response portal, Sahana  geolocated 100 hospitals in 24 hours, and served as an organization registry, food cluster & request portal. Ushahidi  a crowdsourced crisis mapping platform, geolocated incoming messages e.g. trapped individuals, they developed an SMS shortcode for aid in collaboration with local telecom providers, and developed a translation and micro-tasking platform in creole. Humanity Road, developed the first online first aid reference material in Creole, mapped the cholera outbreak and disseminated educational materials through social media. And Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT), deployed and trained over 500 Haitians on mapping and assessing techniques’

When is the best time to get involved?

The time is NOW! There is a misperception that the best time to volunteer is DURING an emergency. This is when we perceive the greatest sense of immediacy and find it easier to prioritize our latent desires to offer a helping hand. Unfortunately, this is the WORST time to volunteer. From under-resourced and overwhelmed organizations combined with competing priorities and sensitive timelines, there is often little to no time assign roles, responsibilities, train and integrate volunteers. In many cases, volunteers risk becoming a burden themselves. Instead, volunteer before the crisis hits. With enough time to get trained and integrated into an organization, volunteering before facilitates a smooth transition and more efficient emergency response. OR volunteer after an emergency during recovery. The timeline is often much longer, and the need for more resources coupled with a lowered sense of immediacy and media coverage proves difficult to solicit volunteer support during these times.

So, how do I get involved?

From crisis mapping services, to social media monitoring, to translation services, to social innovation, there are plenty of organizations that mobilize online around a crisis. And this list is constantly growing. Take some time to learn about the different opportunities out there and choose the initiative that best suits you.
For other volunteering opportunities, see the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) site.
This post also appeared on the Relief to Recovery website.

Are you prepared in times of emergency? Canadian families should have supplies and resources to take care of themselves in disasters until help arrives.

Take this short quiz created by the Canadian Red Cross to determine how prepared you are in case disaster strikes.

1. How long should you and your family be prepared to wait for emergency help to arrive?

a) 24 hours    b) 48 hours

c) 72 hours    d) 1 hour

2. True or False: Making and practicing a plan will help you be ready to deal with any emergencies that come your way.

3. How much water should you store for each individual per day during a disaster?

a) 1 litre for drinking and 1 litre for washing b) 2 litres for drinking and 2 litres for washing

c) 1 gallon for drinking and 1 litre for washing d) we’ll be able to find water somewhere

4. True or False: Canada gets more tornadoes than any other country with the exception of the United States.

5. True or False: If you are outside during a tornado warning, head to your car or mobile home.

6. Which is the most common and costly natural disaster in Canada?

a) House fires b) Hurricanes

c) Flooding d) Thunderstorms

7. Which of the following is important to know in case of an evacuation:

a) know your community’s evacuation routes       b) know where emergency shelters are located

c) know what plans there are for evacuated pets  d) all of the above

8. True or False: During a power outage, it is okay to use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping

heating equipment and home generators indoors.

9. If outside during a thunderstorm, the rule of 30/30 means:

a) you have 30 seconds to seek shelter within 30 metres

b) you have better than 20/20 vision

c) if you count less than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, you should move to an open field with no trees

d) if you count less than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, seek shelter immediately and stay there for 30 minutes.

10. Which one of the following items should not be in an emergency kit:

a) battery-operated flashlight b) cash in small bills

c) an electric can opener d) duct tape

How well did you do?

Here are the answers to the above quiz:

Question 1: c) 72 hours. There may be certain situations where you are not able to or it is not safe to evacuate your home, like a power outage, tornado or flu pandemic. You should be prepared to be self-sufficient in your home for 72 hours (or seven to 10 days in a health emergency).

Question 2: True. Making a plan is the second step (after knowing the risks in your community) in being ready in case of an emergency.

Question 3: b) Two litres for drinking and two litres for washing. During an emergency, tap water can become polluted or supply may be cut off. Canadians should store two litres of drinking water and two litres of water for washing per person, per day. A 72-hour supply of water should always be kept on hand for family members and pets. It is important to rotate your water supply and add fresh water to your kit on a yearly basis.

Question 4: True. Tornadoes typically occur in southern Alberta; Manitoba; Saskatchewan; southern Ontario; southern Quebec; the interior of British Columbia; and western New Brunswick. While tornado season is from April to September with peak months in June and July, they can occur at any time of year.

Question 5: False. If you’re outside during a tornado, head to a basement of a nearby sturdy building, or if there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in a ditch or a low-lying area. If you’re in a car or a mobile home: get out immediately and head for safety. It’s unsafe to stay in your vehicle because it could be picked up, blown over or roll over you.

Question 6: c) Flooding. Floods are one of the most common and costly disasters in Canada.

Floods occur when there is heavy or steady rain for several hours or days, which over saturates the ground. All rivers in Canada experience flooding at one time or another. Hurricanes, violent storms, ice jams or dams breaking can also lead to flash flooding. The potential for flood damage is high where there is development on low-lying, flood-prone lands.

Question 7: d) all of the above. Know your community evacuation plan.

Question 8: False. Never use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment, or home generators indoors because they give off carbon monoxide. Find more information on power outages here.

Question 9: d) If outside during a thunderstorm, know the rule of 30/30. If you count less than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, seek shelter immediately. Each second is equal to 300 metres. Under 30 seconds mean the strikes are within ten kilometres, and there is the potential for a strike in that area. You should then stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the storm ends.

Question 10: c) in times of emergency, there may be no power or electricity so pack only battery-operated or crank flashlights and radio, amongst many other items.

Find more information on being prepared in times of emergency on the Canadian Red Cross website.

A Brampton citizen recently asked me why we weren’t using the old “air raid sirens” to warn people when tornado alerts are sent out by Environment Canada. My first answer was that most alerts don’t actually lead to tornadoes, they only warn us of their possibility. If we were to sound a siren every time we get an alert, we would be activating the sirens probably 30 to 40 times a year and we have yet to have a tornado in Brampton. This will only lead to the “never cry wolf” kind of story.

Then, I started to think back about those sirens and wondered what happened to them. A bit of research and I found out that most were removed by the Department of National Defence (DND) back in the 1970s because they were rusting and becoming eyesores. The Federal Government had no money to maintain them. These sirens had been installed back in the 50s as part of the cold war effort to be prepared for air raids. Those sirens would give about twenty minutes advanced warning for people to take shelter in case of an enemy attack. With the change in technology, the air raids were replaced by the risk of nuclear missiles and with that the warning time went from twenty minutes to less than a minute. Evidently the sirens became obsolete under those conditions, hence the reasoning for cutting the maintenance budget.

Apparently there are a few left, some web sites show two in Toronto and a few in BC. DND admitted in an interview to the Toronto Star in 2007, that some may have been missed from the inventory. In fact, there was controversy as to who actually owned them. The Star called the City of Toronto, who referred them to the Province, who referred them to DND, who referred them back to the City of Toronto.

There was a time when the sirens made sense and the investment was justified. Times change however, and technology advances require us to constantly revisit the premise upon which we made a decision. In emergency management, much has changed as well. I started my emergency management career by having to pull out the emergency plan once a year, turn to the telephone list, and call everyone to make sure the phone numbers were still valid. Back then a blackberry was a fruit, a cell was a living organism, and a network was a social organization.

When I turned to embrace the field fully, I was first called an emergency planner. The function aimed at writing plans. It was a lonely function because nobody had any interest in participating in the planning. Plans were documents that rested on shelves and collected dust. Most of those who should have been using plans actually relied on their personal experience and hoped that they wouldn’t have to face something they had never encountered before. Situations did change and gradually got more complex, more devastating, and the responders started to turn to the plans, making us less lonely.

We then found out that planning was only part of the work. Plans needed to be shared, people needed to be trained on their uses, and the plans needed to be vetted by doing exercises. I became an emergency measures coordinator. The “measures” was part of the old legislation that would differentiate between the War Measures Act and the Peacetime Measures Act.

Once we had done everything we could to write plans – now with more input from those who would implement them – test the plans through exercises, and train the people, we thought that was it. Many of my peers stayed at that level. Then the concepts of prevention and mitigation came around, soon followed by recovery. We now had the next stage of our evolution. I became an emergency manager.

Again, many people seemed to think that this was it. We had reached the ultimate goal in this field. Surprise! We were not there yet.

Emergency Management deals with the physical aspect of emergencies. We build dams, we strengthen buildings, we rezone lands, we develop vaccines all for prevention purpose. We examine radars, we develop public alerting methodologies, we limit the speed of trains in urban surroundings, all for mitigation purposes. We build EOCs, we develop new communication technologies, we tell people what to stock for in their homes, all for preparedness purposes. We put out fires, we transport the wounded to hospitals, we redirect the traffic, we shelter the displaced, all in the response mode. Finally, we clean debris, we repair roads and bridges, we restore power, all in the recovery mode.

We are pretty good at managing all of this and the IMS is the ultimate tool in our arsenal. We can now celebrate our success. Or can we?

Way back even before my time, we used to send men to war, and expect them to get back to normal life when they came home, as if nothing had happened. When I was a kid, if I got hit by a bully, I would be told to suck it up and be a man. Today, we have Critical Incident Stress Management for our soldiers and first responders. Boys are now allowed to cry when they hurt, and bullying in unacceptable.

Emergency Management is all about the physical aspect, but the world has moved on to realize that the emotional and social aspect is just as important. We are now becoming resilience managers. We are now learning how to heal communities beyond cleaning up the debris and repairing the buildings. We now need to learn how to repair lives, how to heal broken ideals, how to recharge people who lost their dreams.

So where are you? Are you an emergency planner, an emergency measures coordinator, an emergency manager, or a budding resilience manager?

Are you still waiting for the air raid siren?

Fourteen years ago on September 11th 2001, I was just getting ready to go home from my last night shift as a Calgary firefighter when my Lieutenant ran into the dorm and yelled “a plane just hit the World Trade Centre!”

As I finished putting on my shoes and ambled down the hallway of #16 firehall, I envisioned a small four-seater may have tagged the building. We all know how wrong that was.

I sat and watched in horror as the second tower was hit, people leapt to their death, the crumbling of massive buildings and finally, the loss of emergency responders.

For almost a year all I could wonder was why? Why hit the World Trade Centre? Why were so many police and fire personnel killed? What could be learned from this?

I needed to find some answers and decided to leave the firehall as a senior firefighter and apply to become a Disaster Services Officer. I had basic emergency management training, intermediate ICS certifications, and was just beginning a business degree in emergency services while perusing any After Action Reports based on 9/11 and other disasters.

I was successful in the competition and was immediately “voluntold” by my chief at the time to work with our Water Services Department to identify all their hazards and develop contingency plans for the greatest threats to their business.

“What?” I didn’t sign up for this, I wanted to be able to plan for saving lives on a large scale, protect citizens and ensure responder safety. Why would I need to work with the water engineers?

It seems that the United States had uncovered a cache of plans that laid out how to destroy major ports, water plants, chemical facilities, hospitals, and other major assets (banks for example). This was my first realization of the incredible cascading impacts that critical infrastructure losses have on each other, and the reason for sending me to our Water Services Department to build their emergency and continuity management program.

My first HIRA was based upon an Australian methodology that would provide a visual representation of the impact of the hazard on business operations. You know the chart: green to yellow to red with all the hazards listed in the boxes. The greatest threat to Calgary’s water operation was flooding, followed

by contamination, then terrorism. I researched internal plans and found that although prepared, the integration of a holistic approach to emergency management for the corporation was lacking. The mechanism of the hazard was irrelevant (natural, technological, man-made) and I had to work fast to provide emergency management structure for the leadership team and put crisis communication processes in place for field staff—and quickly, before we had a major emergency or disaster on my watch.

The emergence of Public Safety Canada in 2003 marked a critical point in the relationship between Emergency Management and Critical Infrastructure (CI). Chief among these was the absorption of Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP) into the realm of public safety and security. Through moving this office from National Defence squarely within the purview of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we began to see the convergence of all-hazards planning and national civil preparedness for physical structures as well as financial, energy, telecommunications and even government services.

It was initially the ripple effects of 9/11 which spurred these actions, along with a clear acknowledgement of the increasingly complex risk environment, and a large amount of corresponding legislation. However, it was the subsequent years and the waning of Jean Chrétien’s administration which gave rise to a far deeper acknowledgement; Canada’s vulnerability was, and remains, fundamentally impacted by a) increases in extreme weather events (caused by climate change), b) aging infrastructure, and c) our reliance on advanced technologies (and reliance on those aforementioned infrastructures). In a report titled “Threats to Canada’s Critical Infrastructure” dated March 2003, Public Safety Canada put into words a realisation with potentially far-reaching impact:

“The increased urbanization of Canadian communities, and the concomitant need for additional vital, uninterrupted, services for Canada’s bourgeoning cities raises the possibility that our critical infrastructure is more vulnerable than ever.”

A year later, the federal government proposed the creation of a ‘National Critical Infrastructure Protection Strategy’.

If we fast forward 5 years to 2009, when the senate committee thought fit to mention the strategy in its document titled ‘Emergency Management in Canada; How the fine arts of bafflegab and procrastination hobble the people who will be trying to save you when things get really bad…’ (not a made up title!), they included this informative image regarding the project:

Clearly, the sudden and important revelation of 2003 took a back seat, and rapidly fizzled into the background noise of parliament hill.

Untitled

Interestingly, in the National Strategy for critical infrastructure primer which closely followed the aforementioned report, the federal government highlighted that the eventual end-product of the initiative would focus on the following:

“…appropriate combination of security measures… business continuity practices … and emergency management planning to ensure adequate response procedures are in place to deal with unforeseen disruptions and natural disasters.”

 While this is a useful sentiment, the absence of a well-formed national strategy has left municipalities, provinces and territories across Canada to develop their own programs, collaborations, initiatives and approaches to EM. While these are generally comprehensive, effective programs specifically tailored to meet the particular needs of each community, most focus on the more pressing and immediate concerns such as Emergency Social Services (ESS), scheduled event planning, and public awareness and lack the resources to adequately address issues which cross jurisdictional boundaries to the federal scale.

What still remains is what I can only refer to as the elephant in the room; our aging critical infrastructure.

A recent quote from prominent writer Kathryn Schultz, featured recently in the New Yorker, comes to mind: “How can [society] being to right itself when its entire infrastructure and culture developed in a way that leaves it profoundly vulnerable to natural disaster?” how indeed. While she is referring to more here than just physical infrastructure, she is entirely accurate in her assessment of the issues we face being the unfortunate result of our historical context.

So how then, do we move forward in the face of this reality? In the absence of a national CI strategy, how are municipalities supposed to address issues pertaining to the myriad of private, public, local, provincial and federal assets, all with varying degrees of access, vulnerability and control? It’s an Emergency Management nightmare at the best of times to even comprehend the risk to our Critical Infrastructure, let alone the potential scale of the subsequent impact on communities which rely on it. My observation has been that most identify the hazards and develop a risk profile, but struggle to move beyond this step.

I suspect that these challenges may remain even beyond the development of the much anticipated Critical Infrastructure Strategy – such is often the nature of wide-reaching federal strategy (though clearly one would hope it’s effective in addressing some of the most critical infrastructure vulnerabilities). However, I would suggest that there are ways to manage the effects of damage to CI, despite the aforementioned challenges to developing a four-pillar approach. While it is perhaps against our better judgement as Emergency Managers to focus purely on response/recovery activities, Damage Assessment programs can provide some quick wins in this regard.

Many municipalities in British Columbia, with lessons learned from experienced cities such as Christchurch, have begun to develop comprehensive Rapid Damage Assessment (RDA) programs in an effort to streamline response and recovery efforts. Primarily, these programs create a platform for engagement of personnel as subject matter experts, public participation, and serve to integrate existing internal emergency response efforts with formal EM efforts. In this way, they inadvertently touch on many important goals of EM; engagement, public education, and business continuity to name a few.

A municipality with an RDA program is likely to have a more intimate understanding of the disaster or emergency at hand, in a timelier manner, and with greater clarity across departments and agencies than one without. It is also undoubtedly in a better position to allocate precious municipal resources and surge capacity to the most vulnerable and impacted areas of the community.

Consider ‘lifeline services’ provided by your municipality and any associated boards and agencies. Water and sanitary systems are some of the most important and susceptible to damage, but also fall firmly in the jurisdiction of municipal or regional bylaws and in-house expertise. The same can be said for building and transportation infrastructure which is often enforced or managed by municipal workers. Engaging your building, public works and engineering departments can be the first step in creating a response strategy which addresses both immediate damage, and the broader Emergency Management goals, including situational awareness and prioritisation of response efforts.

However, I would also argue that it is not enough to simply expect municipalities to develop RDA programs, especially considering that many EM programs are already stretched beyond their means. I have previously referred to the wealth of knowledge which exists elsewhere in Canada and beyond, and I firmly believe that there are ways to share and benefit from this as a community of EM professionals. If we cannot have a National CI strategy, we should at least be considering the development of a platform which enables us to share knowledge pertaining to CI risk management and Damage Assessment initiatives.

As I think about this issue I am constantly reminded of the words of Naomi Klein in her 2009 novel ‘Shock Doctrine’

“Public infrastructure around the world is facing unprecedented stress, with hurricanes, cyclones, floods and forest fires all increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disaster”

 If we are to weather the oncoming storm, we will need a platform which reaches beyond simply highlighting GIS solutions or digital tools to the development of a national framework for comprehensive Damage Assessment, one which includes training, measurement metrics, tactics, program development tools and more. Integrating our collective understanding of CI risk assessment and Damage Assessment is critical as we begin to understand how we will manage the extraordinary problem we now face.