Response from Public Safety
As mentioned in this column, Line editor Jen Gerson recently asked the ministry of Public Safety a few basic questions about our national capacity to handle a disaster. This is the response she received in full.
Good day Jen,
Thank you again for reaching out Public Safety Media Relation Team. Please find below the answers to your questions.
Q1. What are the transportation resources typically available to facilitate an evacuation: in an emergency, how many people could we move by air or land, and how quickly?
Q2. Does the federal government maintain stores of food or other basic goods? How much? How many people could we feed?
Q3. Do we have the capacity to establish temporary housing in an emergency situation? If so, how many people could it hold, and for how long?
This has been an unprecedented wildfire season for communities right across the country, and the federal government is grateful to the firefighters, first responders, and emergency management professionals who have been working tirelessly to keep Canadians safe.
The primary response to a large-scale natural disaster rests with municipal, provincial and territorial governments. They lead and coordinate the emergency response, but the Government of Canada remains ready to provide assistance and support when needed through various mechanisms, if the emergency escalates beyond their capabilities. The Government Operations Centre continuously monitors new and evolving threats across the country, such as the ongoing wildfires in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, and proactively engages with provinces and territories to coordinate the response to the situation and mobilize all necessary federal resources.
The principal tool the federal government has for immediate response to an emergency is the request for federal assistance (RFA). Through an RFA, a province or territory formally requests support from the federal government in their emergency response efforts. An RFA is initiated when an emergency event overwhelms or threatens to overwhelm the resources of a province or territory and federal government help is needed to effectively support the impacted region. This also enables the federal government to engage all of the tools at its disposal, including the Government Operations Centre, the Canadian Armed Forces, the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS), the Humanitarian Workforce, and the resources of multiple federal departments such as Indigenous Services Canada, Transport Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, among others, according to the needs identified by the province or territory.
Should a province or territory make an official request for federal assistance, there is a well-established process in place for managing RFAs, through the Government Operations Centre (GOC), which includes interdepartmental consultation and coordination.
As two examples, RFAs were recently received and approved from both the Northwest Territories and British Columbia. Federal resources including the Canadian Armed Forces are assisting with firefighting, evacuations, and other support based on needs identified by the province.
For more information about both RFAs consult the webpages below:
In addition to responding, all levels of government regularly participate in emergency management exercises. Although provincial and territorial government manage the emergency response in their respective jurisdictions, joint emergency management exercises strengthen the capability across all regions to respond to incidents of all types. Participation in exercises is an integral part of emergency management preparedness planning. All levels of government, first responders, non-government and Indigenous organizations, as well as military officials work together to develop and deliver exercises that simulate emergency scenarios such as natural disasters, health threats, and terrorist attacks in order to validate response plans and training, and identify areas for improvement.
The National Priority Exercise focusses on a specific hazard and is delivered over a designated period of years. It brings together provincial and territorial leadership, the federal government and non-government organizations and authorities to design and deliver inter-related exercise activities, ending with a final cross-jurisdictional exercise. The activities support the national interest to strengthen Canada's ability to assess risks and to prevent/mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. Coastal Response 2023 (CR23) was the Federal Government’s National Priority Exercise for 2020-2023.
CR23 was co-led by Public Safety Canada and the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, British Columbia, in February 2023. Participants came from all orders of government, first responders, Indigenous communities, and officials across the public and private sectors, including 25 federal departments and agencies. The CR23 exercise scenario was designed to simulate, to the greatest extent possible, the challenges, issues, and stressors of a catastrophic earthquake. The coast of British Columbia is the region most at risk of a major earthquake. A strong earthquake near one of Canada's major urban areas would likely be the most destructive natural disaster this country could experience. The scenario outlined how the earthquake would have been strongly felt in most areas of southwestern B.C., with the affected area directly impacting the Lower Mainland, where approximately three million people reside. It described serious damage reported in Greater Vancouver and the possibility of strong aftershocks.
CR23 objectives included addressing the following issues:
Public communications to appropriate stakeholders and engagement with the public
Mass care supports such as shelter, food, and water
Logistics in support of supply chain management and inter-agency coordination to provide resources
Critical Infrastructure identification of interdependencies and prioritization of key assets
Continuity of government focus on delivery of essential services
Senior leader focus on governance, decision-making and prioritization
Hundreds of people in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec participated in CR 23, virtually and in person. Of the many organizations involved, there were
16 provincial ministries and agencies
25 federal and regional departments and agencies
22 local authorities and First Nations
4 national non-governmental organizations
The exercise will help improve future national exercises and point to recommendations to benefit the emergency management system in Canada, bolster our preparedness, and strengthen our response.
Q4. Are we going to rebuild everything that burns down, or do we have to accept that climate change will make some previously habited sections of Canada unlivable?
In light of our changing climate, the Government of Canada has been working with provinces and territories since 2016 through the development and implementation of the Emergency Management Strategy for Canada to improve resilience and enable Canadians to build back stronger. The strategy and its supporting biannual action plans demonstrate concrete steps that governments and emergency management partners intend to take to increase resilience to disasters.
In addition to investing in a modernized Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement (DFAA) program, the Government of Canada is pursuing a number of measures with a view to improving the resiliency of Canadians in the face of the rising frequency and costs of disasters, including:
As proposed in Budget 2023:
Investing an additional $15.3 million to create publicly accessible online portal where Canadians can access information on their exposure to flooding as well as resources and suggestions on how best to protect their homes and communities;
Investing $31.7 million to create a low-cost flood insurance program aimed at protecting households at high risk of flooding and without access to adequate insure. In parallel the Government of Canada will also engage with industry on solutions to earthquake insurance and other evolving climate-related insurance market challenges;
Investing $63.8 million over three years for the Flood Hazard Mapping and Identification Program by completing flood hazard mapping of areas at higher risk of flooding in partnership with provinces and territories;
Working collaboratively with partners to implement the shared priorities laid out in the country’s first National Adaptation Strategy, to help Canada be more resilient and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Strengthening national resilience to disasters is one of the five focus areas of the Strategy;
Working with provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, municipalities, and the emergency management community to implement the Emergency Management Strategy to help Canada better prevent, mitigate, predict, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters;
Developing a National Risk Profile to enhance whole-of-society collaboration and governance to strengthen resilience and to improve understanding of disaster risk in all sectors of our communities;
Integrating climate resilience into the National Building Code and conducting research to factor climate resilience into the design of buildings; and
Providing funding for infrastructure projects through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, to help communities better withstand the potential impacts of hazards.
Q5. What kind of resources will the federal government marshall toward hardening infrastructure to prepare for more serious floods and fires in the future? Is this a priority?
The Government of Canada supports infrastructure projects that increase the resilience of communities against natural disasters and climate change through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, which is administered by Infrastructure Canada. For further details, we invite you to contact the department at firstname.lastname@example.org.