by Lee Spencer, Spencer Emergency Management Consulting
You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard the resounding thud of the Ontario Auditor General’s report on the state of emergency management in Canada’s most populated province hitting the desks of the emergency management community in Canada (report) . I for one was not shocked by the findings and believe most jurisdictions in Canada would see similar criticism if subject to an OAG review.
For generations, provincial level emergency management has been an after thought. Historically staffed by second career fire/police/military retirees who were expected to be seen and not heard. These legacy EMOs were counted on to create order in the otherwise chaotic response phase of large scale disaster and otherwise quickly to be ignored again once the situation was restored and recovery programs began to hand out government grants.
After 9/11 it was clear to elected officials that the public had an expectation of the EMO cavalry galloping in to defeat any hazard, risk or terrorist. But the costs and the growth that would be needed to meet that expectation could not compete with the schools, hospitals, roads and bridges built to ensure tangible things could be pointed to when an election rolled around. After all the last thing most governments want claim at election time is they added more civil servants.
So in this era of increased public expectation, EMOs were given very little new resources to modernize and adapt to the new reality. Provincial EMOs were left to the task of preparedness and response in the modern context with resources more suited to the National Survival primordial ooze from which provincial EMOs emerged.
I am hopeful that the public shaming of our most densely populated economic engine, will lead to a national discussion of the investment required to truly meet the realities and expectations of modern emergency management.There are already several emerging national strategies that will aid in this effort, Canada’s emerging Broadband Public Safety Network and the expanding National Public Alerting Systems are modern capabilities that will go a long way to enhance capacity at even the most modest EMO.
We are also starting to see an expansion in post secondary degrees and diplomas which will lead to firmly establishing emergency management as a profession in Canada. These emerging professionals will eventually take over the leadership roles from folks like me (second career), bringing with them the education and experience to combine the historical EMOs with modern thinking.
I know my former colleagues in the EMO’s across Canada are shifting uncomfortably at there desks at the moment waiting for their own leaders to ask how they compare to Ontario. It would seem to me that if your not uncomfortable you just don’t get it.
About the Author
Lee Spencer is founder and President of Spencer Emergency Management Consulting. The company is focused on the strategic integration of emergency management concepts towards an outcome of resilience within a community, business or government.
This article was first published Spencer Emergency Management Consulting e-blog site.