In the past decade, Ontarians have faced many large-scale emergencies – ice storms, power outages, SARS, forest fires and hazardous material spills. Leveraging all partnerships to keep Ontario safe and secure is my key priority. That can be an overwhelming task in the best of times but becomes especially challenging during times of crises.
No one person or organization can unilaterally deal with a disaster. Complex emergencies require all levels of government, a vast array of organizations and people from many professional disciplines to be fully engaged. To effectively prepare for and respond to crises, emergency management professionals need to use a targeted networking approach to seek out varying perspectives and interests well in advance of an emergency.
Our risk-based programs include activities to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from, actual or potential disasters – the five pillars of emergency management. The success or failure of these programs depends on the strength of the partnerships and networking among all levels of government, volunteer agencies, the private sector, academics, individuals and families. Successful emergency management programs stimulate interest, participation and ownership by all parties involved, with a particular focus on persons with disabilities and diverse communities to ensure that all persons are safe in the tragedies that can befall us.
Here are some of the methods EMO is using:
Incident Management System
There is more we can do to better integrate the efforts of the numerous response organizations, particularly for a large-scale or complex event. To build on the good work already achieved by responders, we have launched a new project to develop a common framework for response.
As the executive sponsor for the development of the Provincial Incident Management System (IMS), I believe it is critical that we understand the concerns, expectations, assumptions and priorities of the entities contributing to the management of any emergency. The need for all emergency response organizations to play a key role in the development of the IMS as a concept of operations was stressed as we embarked on this initiative.
We have had over 30 stakeholders contribute. The current multi-disciplinary IMS steering committee, which consists of representatives from all levels of government and non-government response organizations, is working to achieve a common goal. We are currently developing an IMS doctrine with supporting communication tools and training materials, based on a consensus that balances the different perspectives and expectations brought to the table by very different groups.
Joint Emergency Management Steering Committee
The primary focus of JEMS is to coordinate annual spring flooding preparations, but it can be convened for other emergencies. JEMS brings together key stakeholders in First Nations emergency management programming such as First Nations leadership, federal department officials, provincial ministry representatives, and leaders of both evacuee and host communities.
As a result of this collaboration, clear agreed-upon evacuation standards and service level agreements that are culturally appropriate have been put in place. It has also led to the increase in local emergency management capabilities in First Nations communities along the James Bay Coast.
Ontario Critical Infrastructure Assurance Program
The OCIAP brings together federal, provincial, municipal, and private sector stakeholders to assure the resilience of the province’s critical infrastructure. The partners have identified vulnerabilities and mitigation strategies through participation in nine working groups, each covering a sector of Ontario’s economy such as food and water, oil and gas or transportation.
Increasing the resilience of Ontario’s critical infrastructure is essential to speeding up the recovery following a disaster or emergency.
Supply Chain and Logistics Coordination Alliance
This new initiative builds on the success of the OCIAP and ensures the effective coordination of resources during an emergency. Past large-scale disasters have highlighted the need to better coordinate resources and logistical requirements, such as transportation and distribution of food and other supplies. Partnerships that bring emergency management and supply chain experts together, before a crisis occurs, are key to effectively coordinating resources during stressful emergency conditions.
Eighty-five percent of Ontario’s critical infrastructure is privately owned. By acknowledging the substantial contribution made by private sector firms and by fostering their strong partnership with the provincial government, EMO has helped increase the probability that Ontarians will have access to the commodities and other resources they might need during a crisis situation.
Bonding under fire
Networking also promotes confidence amongst first responders – confidence that inevitably gets tested during emergency preparedness exercises and results in even more networking and partnership opportunities. The lessons learned from these exercises enhance public safety and security.
This was evident during a September 2007 exercise sponsored by the Office of the Fire Marshal, which has responsibility for the management and administration of the provincial Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Program. Members from various CBRNE teams across Ontario came together to demonstrate their level of preparedness, capabilities, and inter-agency cooperation.
The OFM and fire services have long been proponents of partnerships and networking through mutual aid systems. Those prior networking experiences played a key role in the exercise’s success.
Dan Hefkey, chief of EMO, believes that strong and vibrant partnerships are the reasons why Ontario’s emergency management programs have become so well received across many jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S., and he has deemed these partnerships so vital that the concept is now a critical part of EMO’s strategic plan.
Barney Owens, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ emergency management coordinator, says networking is at the heart of his team’s work. As an example, he cites the Ministry Influenza Pandemic Plan. Developed for staff and stakeholders, the well-received plan is the result of meaningful stakeholder involvement, networking and long standing partnerships. Individuals from across the ministry were responsible for its development, communication, distribution and executive approval.
As these examples demonstrate, a single organization can’t effectively prepare for, respond to, manage, and recover from an emergency. Disasters are blind to jurisdictional boundaries and agency mandates. Therefore, a collective approach is necessary.
Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, Ontario ministries and municipalities are required to designate an emergency management coordinator to lead the development and implementation of their respective emergency management program. As a result, a consistent, accountable and robust system of emergency management is being established throughout the province. A multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional, public-private partnership is required to effectively manage any event.
A key executive skill should be the ability to promote and establish