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Opinion: A disaster is a terrible thing to waste

July 17, 2023
By Scott Cameron

Scott Cameron with EMLCanada encourages practitioners to build their emergency management resource lists now.

Scott Cameron deployed to Wood Buffalo during the 2016 wildfires. Photo supplied by author.

Thousands of Canadians have been impacted by the volume of wildfires burning across the country and the elevated need for a strong and vibrant emergency management sector is undeniable and immediate. The industry adage, “a disaster is a terrible thing to waste,” should guide what happens next to strengthen future responses and increase efficiencies.

As communities across the country have been repeatedly facing wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and local disaster situations, the volume of information now available about businesses and community organizations that have stepped in to lend a hand is plentiful – let’s not let these new connections slip through our fingers, this would be a terrible thing to waste.

So how can this adage apply to the most basic preparedness measure, the creation and maintenance of resource lists with accurate contact information?

In 2020, this challenge and need for current and comprehensive resource lists were acknowledged by Emergency Management Logistics Canada (EMLCanada) co-founders, and a grassroots solution was created to help communities respond with greater capacity and confidence, the ideal outcome when such resource information is readily accessible.


Local disasters require local resources so effective resource lists should include current local information since more and more residents and businesses question why local assets weren’t accessed as part of the response and recovery efforts first.

Larger disasters require shared solutions so effective resource lists should also include regional, provincial, and national resource details for when the situations expand, and local agencies require shared solutions and support.

EMLCanada specifically designed a new nationwide membership-based online tool coined the EMLPlatform to encourage local emergency management organizations, businesses, and community organizations to join this network and begin taking co-ordinated preparedness, response, and recovery actions.

While the EMLPlatform has national capacity, the power of this network starts at the local and regional levels. In Central Alberta, where EMLCanada is based, dozens of communities have stepped up to create profiles and begin reaching out to local businesses and community organizations. During a recent online workshop, the Lacombe Regional Emergency Management Agency was able to add more than 30 business and community organization profiles to their resource management list – in less than five minutes.

Drayton Bussiere, director of emergency management for Lacombe County, comments, “it was the easiest thing ever. Very quickly, I was able to see businesses operating in the region that were invited by neighbouring communities that we didn’t have on our own lists. This tool is going to be invaluable when we need to reach out quickly and already know that the businesses we are connecting with are already dialed into emergency management. They are on the EMLPlatform because they’ve identified the need and opportunity to offer support.”

For communities that are in the middle of response and recovery efforts, there is no time like the present to create a profile on the EMLPlatform and we invite the businesses and community organizations that have stepped up to help to do the same.

The platform operates on one simple principle: when everyone builds and maintains their own profile information, everyone wins.

The traditional method of individually and regularly updating contact information is time consuming and often falls off the corner of the desk in the face of competing demands. It’s designed to help maintain and grow resource lists and provides local businesses and community organizations with a unique opportunity to connect directly with local, regional, and provincial logistics sections in a way that has never been available in the past.

For national NGOs, the EMLPlatform can be a powerful tool before and during deployment to affected communities. Dan Millar, assistant territorial director of emergency disaster services deployment and partnerships with Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services, immediately recognized the value of this new logistics tool. “If we are asked to deploy to a community and see they have churches or community centres with commercial kitchens, we can get supports like food services up and running very quickly, delivering hot meals to front-line workers and volunteers,” Millar says.

This wildfire season, social media has been populated with business and community members frustrated with local officials because there are products, services, and supports available locally that are going unused. People are invested in their communities and want to help.

Too often, evacuation orders are issued and area residents, business owners, and volunteers are asked to leave, and external resources arrive to help. The very people with readily available products, services, and supports hunker down in evacuation centres in neighbouring communities while external providers realize the economic benefit of response and recovery efforts.

The UN Sendai Framework promotes a vision of “all of society” engagement in disaster risk reduction.  Local resource identification and information management are the most basic way to be prepared while building significant community commitment to response and recovery efforts.

It’s time for a better way. Let’s not waste what’s surfaced during these events in 2023- the re-established or new connections and now resource information collected.

Instead, let’s begin to compile information to support future disaster situations – locally, regionally, provincially, and nationally. The window of opportunity to make real change is now.

For more information, visit EMLCanada.ca.

Scott Cameron is the co-founder of Emergency Management Logistics Canada (EMLCanada).

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