By Alain Normand

When I worked for the Public Safety Services in Gatineau, I remember an event where Fire Services was called to a home for an active fire. When they arrived on scene, they found out this was the home of one of the firefighters. The family was safe, but the home was compromised. In the debriefing after the response was over, it became evident that this had been a very different incident response than any usual fire call. The firefighters had taken risks they would not normally take because this home belonged to one of their own. They went beyond the call of duty to try and save that home. They worked faster to contain the fire and took shortcuts putting their own safety at risk. They tried to minimize the water damage by installing pumps while the fire was still active. They reached for a few items in the home that they felt could have special meaning to the family and moved them outside to protect them. While the team was reprimanded to a certain extent for not following protocols, it became evident that their actions were different when dealing with the home of one of their colleagues.

Emergency management has been concentrating in responding to emergencies that affect our citizens with little to no regards to situations affecting our own operations. What if an emergency now affects one of our key facility? Do we respond in the same way? Should we respond with the same protocols?

The quick answer may be that this is the responsibility of the business continuity unit. Experience has shown us however that the continuity of operations units in governments – if there is one at all – focus on developing contingency plans or recovery plans. The response aspect is rarely included in the mix. The idea is to relocate people, to transfer operations somewhere else, to maintain IT functions, to continue serving our customers. Rarely are the plans inclusive of the response function. Who works with the first responders in the initial phases to ensure that staff are all accounted for? Who communicates to staff on the situation and lets them know the details of the incident? Even more important, how do we ensure that we have enough resources to take care of the emergency that affects both our citizens and our own operations?

A major power outage, a tornado strike, a pandemic, or a flood, may have impacts both internally and externally. As these emergencies grow in magnitude and impact, it becomes evident that these situations of dual impact will become more common.

I am a believer in the IMS system. At the same time, I find that the IMS system doesn’t go far enough. There is too much of ICS in the system which concentrates on doing tasks to protect the life and health of people affected, then the property and the environment. It does this with no differentiation whether the impact is on residents or on government property. Business continuity people will likely tell you that the faster you start on contingency implementation or recovery operations, the better your chances of minimizing downtime and reducing financial impacts. Yet, first responders will roll out the yellow tape by the kilometre if they feel it is the right thing to do.

This is why we have modified our IMS org chart. Beyond the traditional command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration teams, we grafted an incident management team. This team is the same that responds to internal incidents that do not involve emergency responders. When we have a cyber attack, a pipe burst, or a labour disruption, the team comes together to start implementing contingency and recovery plans. That same team is now called into the EOC during other emergencies to assess and take action in coordination with the rest of the EOC teams.

This team, composed of specialists from IT, HR, Facilities, Security, Communications, and Business Continuity, plays a number of roles in the EOC. First, they raise awareness to the first responders of their own need. They can coordinate access to sensitive equipment, they can obtain access to facilities to shut off building systems or equipment, and they can direct first responders for increased efficiency and speed in their containment of the situation. They have first hand information on the situation, the actions being taken, and they can evaluate the impact on operations right there from the EOC. They can communicate with staff and provide authoritative instructions on what employees should be doing about the situation. They can coordinate the timing of their recovery with that of the EOC-led response. They can make sure that resources are allocated to their plans and not all go to the external response.

While most private organization that have a business continuity plan will coordinate their response all from the internal point of view, municipal governments are different. We have to coordinate both the internal and the external at the same time. The IMS system is lacking in that it has an external focus only. We have modified it so it now has both. I believe other municipal governments should consider combining resources from the emergency management side and the business continuity side to this revised IMS organizational chart.

Like they tell you on the planes, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. In our training, we tell staff that they should have a personal preparedness plan. If they are called to take action during an emergency, we don’t want them to be worried about their families. Take care of your own first, then come and help us take care of the situation, is what we teach.

As a municipal government, if our operations are compromised, we want to make sure we have the ability to maintain our critical services first, then work towards resolving the situation. Having an Incident Management Team in the EOC allows us to do this.

As a consultant, I’ve been fortunate to see an increasing number of organizations accept that they need to improve their ability to respond to a range of emergencies and disruptions. While this shift has been slow, it’s becoming commonplace to see diverse organizations adopting the practices and methodologies that emergency managers have used for years, ranging from the creation of dedicated business continuity positions, to the widespread adoption of the incident command system. While I’m not ready to unfurl a mission accomplished banner, I can at least say that the majority of my clients are beginning to realize that having some level of internal emergency management capacity is no longer optional.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my colleagues in the area of cyber-security, who have viewed this change in attitudes with envious eyes, and have begun to display the signs of frustration that were so common among emergency managers a few years ago. While the work of preventing cyber-attacks and breaches from occurring is a never-ending battle, I have noticed that few organizations have integrated their cyber-security and emergency management functions effectively…or at all. In most cases, cyber-security experts know how to respond to breaches at a tactical level, and problems arise when an inexperienced leadership team tries to respond to these events like they are “business as usual”.

In general, this is a result of how organizations tend to structure emergency management and cyber-security during routine operations. In most cases emergency management professionals are located within a health and safety portfolio, while cyber-security tends to fall under IT, and never the twain shall meet. However, there is a solution to this, one that I’m starting to see gain traction in several high-reliability organizations. Simply put, aligning these organizations within a well-developed incident management system can ensure that an organization is as effective at responding to network breaches as it is when dealing with fires and floods.

While the type of incident management practiced by municipal firefighters using the Incident Command System may not be the best fit for dealing with hackers, the foundational principles of these methodologies (management by objectives, chain of command, integrated communications, etc.) can still increase the effectiveness of organizations dealing with cyber-attacks. After all, it’s difficult for cyber-security experts to isolate a breach when they’re being bombarded with frantic emails from all levels of the organization. The trick is to ensure senior leaders understand that a disruption, regardless of the cause, is not business as usual. This can often be difficult, but if leaders can ensure their teams adhere to the discipline of an established system, they can ensure a better response overall.

By John Rainford, Director, The Warning Project

Last year I facilitated a workshop of emergency management experts and front-line responders. I asked this group – drawn from across the country and representing a broad range of emergency organizations – two questions.

1. In your experience, to effectively manage an emergency, how important is public and partner communication on a scale of 1 to 10?

The vast majority indicated 9 or 10 on the scale.

2. In terms of your emergency preparedness resources – such as exercises, training, planning –what percentage is dedicated to public and partner communication?

Sensing where this was going, the crowd was decidedly sheepish, but honest, all the same. Most indicated less than 5%, many suggested less than 1%, if at all.

Such informal polling methods don’t produce hard data, but I’ve asked these questions a number of times to a number of emergency management groups and the results are always similar. Despite clear acknowledgement of communication as a key emergency management tool, few are investing time, training, or planning for this function.

Assessment of emergency responses clearly demonstrates the results of this disparity. Indeed, I struggle to think of a single after-action report or review of a complex emergency that doesn’t highlight the importance, and challenge, of the communication role.

It’s a basic contradiction: communication is a core element – and a potentially serious weakness — of emergency management, but rarely do we do anything about it.


It’s a question I’ve asked myself in some form or another for years. I work to help organizations build emergency communication capacity. Frankly, the search for answers continues, but here are a few thoughts so far.

1. Organizations like to buy stuff

I once was part of an external assessment in a country in the Middle East that had been involved in a controversial emergency. They were showing us their shiny new EOC as a sign they were well prepared. Fiber optic cables, banks of monitors and tv screens, tiered seating equipped with the latest technology, they bought everything.

“We have real time emerging threat data from every corner of the country,” our guide explained.

“So, just what do you do with all that information?” I asked, prompting an awkward pause.

“Have you seen the plasma tvs?”.

Organizations love hard assets. The cost of 1 million doses of vaccine is a lot easier to explain and justify than a behavioural change communication strategy on vaccine hesitancy, even

though the latter might be more important. Just ask France, which bought 60 million doses of H1N1 vaccine – enough for everyone — only to find less than 5% of its population would actually take it.

Effective emergency communication strategies and practice are the result of processes and analysis, not individual pieces of equipment, channels, or software programs. Designed to influence perception and action, communication success is achieved person-by-person, interview-by-interview, webcast-by-webcast, town-meeting by town-meeting. No single product, act, or channel can be showcased as the reason for success.

Rooted in social science where context and intersecting variables are part of the mix, communication can feel “mushy” and imprecise to many emergency managers. It’s a lot easier to quantify improved scores of participants in training on a new document management system than to explain the process and impact of a community engagement strategy or message testing for at-risk populations.

2. Communication = Politics….I hate politics

For a politician, communication is their stock in trade, the function through which they typically succeed or fail. Many emergency managers are cut from a different cloth, for example, priding themselves on action not talk.

Around emergency centre tables and hallways I’ve often sensed an unease working in the political arena. How many times have we heard after a serious emergency: “everything was going well until the politicians got involved”.

Thing is, they always get involved.

Emergencies are political events. Choices have to be made.

Public perception and comment about the wisdom, success, failure, and accountability of actions taken and recommended by emergency managers are inherent elements of the emergency landscape. News and social media cover them, governments react to them, and department funding increases or declines because of them. The ability to communicate in ways that influence public and partner perceptions of emergency management and recommendations has to be built and to address this reality.

3. Emergency Communication versus PR: Round Holes, Square Pegs

But it’s not just emergency managers who may be reluctant to embrace the emergency communication function. It clearly goes the other way too, with many communication staff either disengaged or ill-equipped to be a key member of the emergency management team. A big part of this may be explained by the day to day work of those communication staff, often employed to provide traditional public relations support to the organization and its leadership, for example, highlighting good news stories.

But success as defined in the PR domain is often fundamentally different than that of emergency communication. For example, the PR professional might track social media conversation to assess how positively or negatively the organization is being viewed. The

emergency communication professional, however, is more likely to be tracking social media for evidence of confusion or misunderstanding of the advice offered.

For legitimate reasons, the PR professional is particularly sensitive to organizational criticism and often holds it up as the indicator of success or failure. For the emergency communication pro, however, their focus is on supporting emergency management outcomes. The measure of success is whether communication helps those at risk and in distress to know about and take productive action to mitigate suffering and lower risk, even while the organization is being attacked.

Going forward, getting better

Core to effective emergency management is an ongoing effort to improve performance. But if we recognize the central role communication plays in your work, its high time we embraced the function. Its time for an increased focus, on targeted investments in exercises, training, and professionalization of this function.

As the Director of an organization dedicated to those objectives, it must sound self-serving. It is. But I’m also a citizen, a father, a community member, and a passionate believer in the importance of emergency preparedness and response.

I know we have the capacity to do this better, which is in all of our interests. John Rainford is the Director of The Warning Project.

He is the former Director, Emergency and Risk Communications for Health Canada and Global Project Lead, Risk Communication Capacity Building for the World Health Organization. Additionally, he worked at the Privy Council Office in Ottawa as the lead analyst responsible for national security communications.

He has specialized in the field of high risk communication for the past 20 years after several years covering and working in politics as a journalist and aide on Canada’s Parliament Hill.

He has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Queen’s University, teaches emergency risk communication at Carleton University, and has led emergency risk communication workshops around the world involving participants from over 150 different countries.

For information about the support and services of The Warning Project, please contact

By Mark D. Evans

If I told you I was good enough at cutting hair, would you let me give you a haircut?

If your answer was yes, I would be glad to meet you with a bowl, maybe some hedge trimmers and a pair of safety scissors to prove my point further. It is almost guaranteed that you would say something to me far less polite than “this looks really terrible” (in truth, it would look very bad).

But I said it would be “good enough”.

By admitting my hair styling skills are “good enough”, I am actually admitting and accepting it falls short of great – that it could stand to be much better. The term “good enough” doesn’t really live up to itself. Accepting “good enough” as an approach to a task, has never yielded excellence in any area. Haircuts included.

When it comes to matters of Emergency Social Services, there are many different ways for municipalities and NGO’s to approach this responsibility. But at the heart of the matter, ESS is about caring for your community – it’s about customer service.

I agree that sensible lines must be drawn as to what can be done during an emergency. However, this line should not be confused with having plans and procedures that are “good enough”.

If your approach to customer service is good enough, it probably leaves room for improvement.

Drawing a sensible line does not preclude ESS practitioners, responders or volunteers from offering an extra bit of customer service before, during, and/or after a conceivably traumatic event – some empathetic conversation, offering a cup of coffee, a small toy for affected children, spending a little extra time during registration, etc.

Ensuring that we try our absolute best to weave excellent customer service throughout the planning and service delivery of Emergency Social Services is not just a best practice – It’s the difference between an ESS program being good enough or being great.

The Emergency Management Exemplary Service Award is a prestigious recognition for exceptional service and achievement. This award, a partnership between provincial, territorial and federal governments, recognizes recipients who have achieved excellence in their respective fields.

Awards will be granted in five categories:

o   Resilient Communities;

o   Search and Rescue Volunteers;

o   Search and Rescue Employees;

o   Youth; and,

o   Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Management

The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is now accepting nominations for the Resilient Communities, Youth and Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Management categories. All nominations must be submitted to by January 31st, 2018.

Search and Rescue nominations can be made to Public Safety Canada.

Nominations should be for initiatives and achievements undertaken in the past two calendar years (this requirement is waived for recognition of outstanding careers). In addition to new nominations, nominators are permitted to resubmit unsuccessful nominations for initiatives and achievements undertaken in the past two calendar years.

You can find the nomination forms and more information about the EM Awards by visiting

I have often been told that I see the “grey” in what some would perceive as black and white situations; a mantra that I try to intuitively apply to every facet of life.  I can compare “seeing the grey” to a well-known and often quoted musical adage; that to fully appreciate the music you need to listen to the space between the notes. You see, I completed my undergraduate degree in music and had the pleasure of studying music appreciation. I draw parallels from the many hours I sat listening and critiquing performances in the concert hall to how to challenge myself to become an effective leader. I learned a great deal in the stillness and the quiet of that hall: the space between the notes includes hidden motifs, cultural innuendos, clever plays on history, glimpses into the composer’s character, all set in the context of the time in which the piece was written. Missing such intricacies can equate to the listener being robbed of a well-intentioned emotion / theme / message that the composer was trying to depict through the composition. To this point, when I lead, I treat my staff, colleagues, clients, friends, with the same attentiveness that I would sipping a glass of chardonnay and listening to one of Johanne Braham’s Concerti’s. And so, this is my call to leaders across the board – reflect on this vision and apply the “grey mantra” as a means to energize an intention within an organization; read between the notes and allow the hidden themes to guide your conflict management practices, innovative adaptations, ability to coach and mentor, and to drive a movement of passionate leadership.

It’s through experience that I have witnessed to an organization’s ability to sustain, to adapt and grow by utilizing the grey mantra.  On the contrary, I have also witnessed to organizations that resist seeing beyond black and white; unfortunately earning a negative reputation and struggling in two key areas: maintaining competitive advantage and business sustainability. Two principles drive the grey mantra: optimism and altruism. Both principles need to be rooted throughout an organization and extend through the people that encompass all business functions. These two principles are the tools applied to turn a positive intention into a flourishing business practice.

If optimism does not flow from the head of an organization and permeate all functions, the culture will suffer, and its people may struggle to find true satisfaction or meaning in their work. This can result in wariness and discord, a breeding ground for toxic culture. It is in this state that leadership usurps the need to invest in their people with the narrow-minded thinking of profit before all else.  To prioritize profit over people will ultimately undermine an organization’s bottom line.  In a highly competitive and dynamic marketplace, investing in and prioritizing human capital will pay long-term dividends when it comes to competitive advantage, employee retention, and ultimately profit margins.

Altruism is a principle that must be practised when leading an organization to sustain and adapt to market demand. In its absence, there’s a lack of investment and mentorship in people, and personal accountabilities are not taken seriously. To build a culture of positivity and create a space where people want to work and invest their time, leadership need to be driven by selflessness and passion to motivate others. Altruism lends to an organizational culture that responds with an understanding of character traits at play, has tolerances for underlying vulnerabilities and looks for key strengths in people to enhance structure and innovation. It provides an understanding of historical processes to continuously adapt to an ever-changing climate, and creates a culture of personal accountability.

It is through transparent and communicative leadership that optimism and altruism transform the culture of the organization. These “spaces between the notes” provide energy to sustain, adapt and grow an organization, all the while creating a culture of innovation, transparency, and investment.  Seeing the grey provides people within the organization with true leadership and a sense of purpose, painting an optimistic organizational paradigm for its publics which, as research demonstrates, does drive profitability. Lead with optimism, invest in people, continuously adapt to the market effectively, and innovate to maintain competitive advantage; four simple truths driven from “seeing the grey”.


By now most of you should be finished or most of the way through our first book, and we will be opening up the discussion portion of the book club. I am posting some discussion questions to get us started, but if there are any other salient points or questions you would like to ask, you are welcome. As always, let’s keep the discussion fact based, and cite your sources if needed.

1. Charles Perrow introduces us to concepts such as complex vs linear, tightly coupled vs loosely coupled,  and ranks different systems based upon their complexity and coupling. Where would you list your organization, or for that matter, emergency management? Why?

2. Perrow waffles somewhat on the concept of risk homeostasis: the idea that we all have a natural risk level, and that new safety features entice us to push the system to higher limits. Sometimes he accepts it as a legitimate cause of behaviour, other times he dismisses it, and still others he attributes it more to the macro-scale of production (it is less the individual’s risk homeostasis than the industry’s homeostasis). Which do you think is the more correct formulation? Do you think we are always seeking to push the boundaries, that it’s more the production pressures from the system, or does none of that play a role and it is just a natural consequence of the system at large?

3. Perrow in the last chapter takes a pretty dim view of what was to him recently a new class of professionals: risk assessors. Arguably many regulatory agencies are in bed with the groups they oversee, but he takes it one step further: arguing that they exist to legitimize the wisdom of the crowd. Expert knowledge, statistics and mathematical probabilities, he feels exist as a way to legitimize what would otherwise be unacceptable risks to a world, not as an objective measure of risk. Is he right? What does that mean for our profession (arguably we would fit in the class of risk assessors)?

4. This book was written back in the 1980s. The world has undoubtedly changed since then. What new technologies have arisen that you think fit in that class of risks that we should abandon, modify, or accept?

5. Are there any specific lessons, concepts, or ideas that you felt you could take away and use in your organization?

Calling all Seasoned EM/BC Professionals, Students and Early Career Professionals! Registration for the OAEM Mentorship Program is now open!

The OAEM mentorship program is now kicking off for the third time! The program is for college/university students based in Ontario who are studying in an emergency management educational program, or early career professionals based in Ontario who have graduated within the last 2 years. The program aims to connect EM/BC students and early career professionals to seasoned professionals in the field in order to promote networking and knowledge transfer, and assist in building connections.

The OAEM Education Director will provide help to both Mentors and Mentees in establishing the partnership. Monthly contact between Mentors and Mentees is expected via phone, e-mail, Skype, Face Time, and 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 practitioner or if you are an Ontario-based EM/BC student interested in building connections and learning about the field, please  complete a form found on the following link:

Review from Serenna Besserer (OAEM Mentor 2016 – 2017):

“I really enjoying being able to mentor students studying Disaster and Emergency Management. I wish this opportunity was presented to me when I first started my career and it is nice to give back by helping the new students.”

Review from Saricka DaCosta (OAEM Mentee 2016 – 2017):

“Great opportunity to learn from experience individuals in the field, if you are every considering going into the EM.”

If you have any questions, please contact

Mental health and the impact it can have in the operational environment took centre stage at a recent professional development session held by the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers, on November 03, 2017 at the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre in Toronto.

Conducted in partnership with the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshall and Emergency Management (OFMEM), the session entitled “Mental Health in the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) – What you need to know as an industry leading emergency manager” was the first in a professional development series launched by the OAEM in September with the goal of providing proactive and practical strategies for supporting mental health in the EOC.

According to Dr. Lori Gray, a clinical, forensic, and rehabilitation psychologist who focuses on the issue of trauma through her work with first responders and a key note speaker at the development session, there were key takeaways which would allow attendees to strengthen their emergency management programs in respect to mental health.

“While the field of workplace mental health has grown exponentially, recommendations have tended to focus more on traditional work,” Gray said during the presentation.  “In contrast, the EOC presents unique demands and challenges in the application of those recommendations.”

Moving forward, the second event in the professional development series, scheduled to take place on 25 January 2018, will focus and review the best practices and lessons learned in crisis communications and reputation management. Jason Reid, OAEM’s Professional Development Director, believed the mental health session and the series itself further affirms the commitment of the volunteer organization in furthering the emergency management field.

“It’s truly remarkable how a group of volunteers made up of passionate professionals can have a positive impact on the professional development in Ontario’s Emergency Management Community,” said Jason Reid. “We have a unique opportunity and obligation to support emergency management professionals while connecting industry experts willing to share the good, and more importantly the bad.  This shared information allows others to gain the strength of knowledge from both new practices and the lessons learned.”

The Emergency Management Branch of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) is pleased to announce the launch of the ‘Municipal EMPCA Online Compliance Submission Tool’.  This tool was developed by OFMEM, with the assistance of CEMCs from across the province.  The tool provides CEMCs with the ability to provide OFMEM with their annual compliance submission online, including copies of any supporting documents that they wish to provide in order to demonstrate their compliance with the annual requirements of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The tool has been developed in way that is intuitive, easy to follow, and secure. Continue reading