How EMOs across Canada orchestrate emergency management
April 6, 2023
By Treena Hein
In Canada, as in other countries, emergency management response can involve local, regional/provincial/state and national entities, depending on the scale and type of disaster.
Each provincial/territorial emergency management office/organization (EMO) across Canada does its very best to respond effectively, but if we look at whether there are differences in jurisdictional response triggers and other aspects of response, we might find ideas for improvement.
But before we take a look at how the roles of EMOs play out across the country in relation to federal and municipal response, here are a few points to keep in mind.
Most reading this know local authorities in Canada generally lead community emergency response and that they are in close contact with their EMOs and other entities for support as needed. For example, on March 16, 2023, as has happened in other areas of Canada, a First Nation community in the Yukon declared a state of emergency over opioid use, and called for a meeting with nearby municipal leaders as well as territorial government officials and the RCMP to develop an action plan.
When the severity of the disaster is very large, EMOs request assistance from other provinces/territories and/or the federal government. This occurred, for example, in late 2021 in B.C. with the severe rain, flooding and landslides. The B.C. government asked for federal assistance, and among other actions, the feds deployed the Canadian Armed Forces to assist affected communities.
In addition to the size of the disaster, the type of event dictates provincial/territorial response. Geoffrey Downey, acting communications director at the Department of Justice and Public Safety, representing the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization (NBEMO), says, “For example, burying a tire fire with sand is very different from rescuing cattle during a flood, but the problem-solving process itself is the same. NBEMO’s staff relies on their emergency-management expertise and the relationships they have developed to find a solution.
“The fundamentals remain the same: making sure all involved understand what needs to be done, plan together to deliver what’s needed, matching physical and human resources and finding a way to help.”
The federal government, through Public Safety Canada (PSC), is responsible for the national emergency response system. National emergencies could be security or health related, could involve nuclear safety or might involve floods or fires on federal lands. According to Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office, “in the event of a nationally-declared emergency, the federal government can/will implement its Federal Emergency Response Plan and will consult with provinces and territories through their regional offices.”
Returning to the provinces, it seems some, but perhaps not all EMOs across Canada are also responsible for helping the public, local governments, not-for-profits, and businesses with emergency preparedness and with recovery programs such as disaster financial assistance.
Some EMOs are also putting more focus on proactive emergency response. For example, a few months ago in Ontario, several days prior to the onset of the winter storm on Dec. 23, the EMO began working collaboratively to keep people safe. By doing this, Emergency Management Ontario was better able to co-ordinate timely supports and responses to the eventual weather-related declarations of emergencies from municipalities and Indigenous communities. At the request of municipalities, the EMO issued “four emergency alerts, building on local efforts to communicate potentially life-saving information.” It also “activated EMO Field Officers to support logistics.”
Here’s a look at how each province and territory structures its EMO.
Last December, the B.C. government created a standalone Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness (EMCR) and appointed Minister Bowinn Ma. In its announcement of the new ministry, the government noted B.C. “has been disproportionately impacted” by natural emergencies such as flooding and unprecedented wildfire seasons. The Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre (PECC) is headquartered within EMCR.
If the emergency is beyond local community capacity, a Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre (PREOC) will open in support. If more than one PREOC is activated or it is deemed operationally necessary, the ministry opens the PECC to co-ordinate provincial resources and communications with all agencies, provincial ministries, and levels of government.
In the event of large-scale disaster, a Catastrophic Emergency Response and Recovery Centre is activated along with the PECC.
Alberta has a Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services, currently led by Minister Mike Ellis, with a PECC. Local authorities are supported to manage disaster events by regional and First Nation Field Officers from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA), who are available to provide emergency management advice and pass information on to PECC.
If the disaster event overwhelms or has the potential to overwhelm a local authority, it can be supported by one of six regional All Hazards Incident Management Teams who provide additional emergency management expertise and support.
In larger disasters, PECC co-ordinates, and another provincial ministry may be designated as the lead. “For example, wildfires in the Forest Protection Area (FPA) are managed by Alberta Forestry Parks and Tourism, with the communities in the FPA being responsible for managing structural fires within their communities. Health-related emergencies such as pandemics are managed by Alberta Health.”
Besides core co-ordination, the Yukon Emergency Measures Organization EMO – under the Department of Community Services – can activate the Emergency Coordination Centre in Whitehorse for more support if the situation warrants.
The Yukon government has a separate Wildland Fire Management branch. Similar to other parts of Canada, the Yukon EMO only becomes involved in a wildfire response if emergency social services are required, an evacuation order is needed, or if the situation exceeds the branch’s capacity to respond.
The N.W.T. Emergency Management Organization has staff located in Yellowknife as well as five regional offices. The EMO is housed in the province’s Public Safety Division within the Municipal and Community Affairs Department.
In an emergency, the EMO decides on level of activation, which ranges from simply maintaining situational awareness to full activation and co-ordination of response supports. A large-scale disaster would lead to the activation of the Territorial Emergency Operation Centre (TEOC) to co-ordinate the territorial response and communicate with Regional Emergency Operation Centres.
The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) is a Treasury Board Crown that provides public safety services including wildfire response and support, fire safety training, investigation, emergency planning, response, recovery and emergency communications. The agency operates Sask911, SaskAlert and the provincial Emergency Measures (Management) Organization. As in other provinces and territories, the SPSA steps in to help local authorities as requested.
Escalated emergencies can lead to the opening of a Provincial Emergency Operations Centre to be “one voice” for the communities needing assistance.
Saskatchewan has a Provincial Public Safety Telecommunications Network managed through the SPSA, SaskPower and the RCMP. It provides fire departments, police services, emergency medical services, emergency preparedness and volunteer search and rescue groups with radio communications that allows them to communicate with each other during times of emergency.
As in other provinces and territories, the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization co-ordinates, responds to overwhelmed local authorities and requests assistance from other jurisdictions as needed. The EMO is housed within the Transportation and Infrastructure Department.
The EMO operates a static Manitoba Emergency Coordination Centre (MECC) in Winnipeg, as we as deployable MECCs that can dispatch to emergency sites across the province.
Earlier this year, Ontario released its new, first-in-Canada emergency management strategy and action plan that includes a new framework. Emergency Management Ontario is the “one window” for emergency management co-ordination in the province, working with all ministries and partners to inform an emergency management commission, deputy ministers steering committee, and cabinet committee.
Emergency Management Ontario runs a Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC), staffed 24/7, and co-ordinates with Regional Field Services as needed.
As with other EMOs, Emergency Management Ontario has a flexible and collaborative approach to respond to different types of emergencies. There are different types of emergencies within the province and a flexible approach means that emergencies can be handled either from the bottom-up or from the top down, or a combination of both, depending on the nature of the emergency.
Quebec’s Ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec (Ministry of Public Safety – MSP) co-ordinates the government response during a disaster. As occurs elsewhere in Canada, it provides support to affected municipalities when their capacity is exceeded or about to be exceeded, and asks for federal assistance where required.
As is the case across Canada, the NBEMO is responsible for co-ordinating emergency response once the resources at the local level have been exhausted or are inadequate. There are 12 Regional Emergency Management Coordinators, one in each region of the province, with a provincial operation centre in Fredericton that is activated for any crisis that requires NBEMO attention.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The Emergency Services Division, under the Department of Justice and Public Safety, is the co-ordinating agency for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s emergency management. In this province, the agency has five levels of activation, from enhanced monitoring by the Emergency Services Division to full activation of the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre.
Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office (NSEMO) co-ordinates provincial resources and also administers the 911 service, among other responsibilities. NSEMO is a division of the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and employs around 25 staff throughout the province.
NSEMO states that its priority updating the province’s All-Hazards Emergency Plan, and reviewing and updating provincial and emergency management plans.
As with all other EMOs, the P.E.I. Emergency Measures Organization steps in when requested by a municipality or in cases of a province-wide emergency. Housed within the Department of Justice and Public Safety, the EMO uses an All Hazards Emergency Plan to direct response to non-routine emergencies in the province.
Nunavut Emergency Management – housed within the Department of Community and Government Services – is responsible for the Emergency Measures Organization and the support of Search and Rescue operations throughout Nunavut.
NEM’s role is to co-ordinate and communicate, and can be called on at various stages in the disaster management process. Often, one initial role is to help define which level of government or government agency has jurisdiction managing the response, according to various pieces of legislation, but as in other areas of the country, most disaster scenarios requiring an emergency response will require a coordinated response within and among governments.
NEM requires all-hazard response plans to be in place for each community in the territory.
Editor’s note: This information was collected by contacting each EMO across Canada and reflects the information that was given or found on official websites. If information is inaccurate or can be expanded upon, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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