Canada is not spared from the global rise in disasters, which are increasing in both severity and frequency. According to the Canadian Disaster Database, Canada has seen 195 major disasters between 2008 and 2018, including extreme heat, wildfires, drought, storms, floods and melting permafrost.
These and other events pose serious risks to our people, communities, economy and environment. Emergency Management (EM) programs have never been more important.
Calian has worked extensively with EM directors, program managers and executives across the country to bring our deep knowledge and experience in major event planning to EM assignments, and we always learn something new in the process. My aim here is to share some of that experience to help maximize the benefits and effectiveness of your program. Though it can be hard to quantify the benefits of EM in dollars and cents, I like the term return on investment (ROI) – it’s unambiguous.
ROI is an important consideration because the resources supporting EM programs are limited. Your community welfare depends on getting the best value from every dollar invested and, the reality is, EM programs carry risk. Risks include the possible consequences of program failure, such as reputational damage, loss of public confidence or, worse, loss of property or even lives. With ROI in mind, your goal continues to be improving community or organizational resilience. Maximizing ROI does not mean cutting costs -- it means maximizing your program’s effectiveness.
Four Pillars of EM
Updated in 2017, Public Safety Canada’s EM Framework has guided federal, provincial and territorial collaboration since 2007. Resilience, it says, is “the capacity of a system, community or society to adapt to disturbances resulting from hazards by persevering, recuperating or changing to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning.” Canada’s EM Framework has four pillars: prevention/mitigation; preparedness; response; and recovery. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
The first step in any program is to analyze the risks and hazards posed to your specific community or organization. This is foundational to prevention. For example, what hazards might your community or organization face as a result of proximity to freight trains, nuclear power generation, chemical plants or coastal areas?
Calian EM experts recently produced a report for the City of Whitehorse. It included our analysis of the greatest risks of catastrophe for the city. First and foremost was wildfire. Hazardous material accidents, major earthquakes and extreme cold were also identified. These conclusions were based on a careful and considered analysis and laid a foundation for Whitehorse’s EM program. We ranked key risks based on their likelihood, potential impacts, the ability of the community to recuperate, their effect on public confidence and other factors.
The prevention pillar’s risk and hazards analysis informs your emergency plan, which must be as clear and simple as possible. It is essential that EM response personnel clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.
So, how do you know if your plan is effective? Your highest ROI will depend on regular, consistent practice and training. Training should be progressive. Practice, practice, practice. Set your standard high and make a continuous effort to reach it over multiple years. Your training program does not need to be expensive. Start small, with discussions and workshops. Proceed to practice drills and functional exercises. Finally, hold periodic full-scale exercises. It’s critical that participants feel they are improving and succeeding with each exercise. Confidence is key.
Response and Recovery
This is when all the upfront work pays off. Before and during response it’s important to start your recovery planning. Team members should be assigned planning tasks such as where and how to house community members what government or relief programs could help them get home sooner, returning to a close-as-possible normal state.
Following an emergency event or an exercise, conducting a methodical review is key to improvement. When we speak of lessons learned we often mean “lessons collected.” It is important to document those lessons and put them to work through an action plan. Discuss, dissect and internalize them so that you can refine your EM program with any necessary changes to processes, structures or behaviours.
Emergency preparedness and response requires effective planning, program development, training and exercises. Following these steps within the four pillars of Canada’s EM Framework will help you make sure that your program is effective and your EM dollars are well spent.
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