municipal role in emergency response

The municipal role in emergency response is as first responder and to clean up after the mess.

global experience


Most municipalities in Canada have very poor emergency preparedness despite 9/11 and availability of Emergency Operations Centre funding from Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, an agency specifically intended to improve these capabilities. Where such facilities do exist, they tend to be centralized in one building rather than using distributed call centre or mobile user interfaces to make coordination of the first responders independent of any particular physical place.

Canada is plagued by poor coordination between its three levels of government. The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Disaster Relief Unit has the formal responsibility for major disasters that hit Toronto, Canada. The Emergency Management Ontario agency under Julian Fantino deals with the on-the-ground problems while the DRU is mostly responsible for after the fact payments.


In the US, the US FEMA coordinates the municipal role in emergency response but at least one departing Head of FEMA, Brownie, directly blamed Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin for failure to call federal help in, on time. This was poorly received by a Republican committee investigating: Most Democrats boycotted to press for a large scale full inquiry into the failures.

changing roles

In Canada the equivalent role, the Minister of State - Communities and Infrastructure, and equivalent lobbying body, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, has hitherto played no role in improving and integrating various emergency services. The FCM infra program is innovating in environmental management but so far not in risk management. This may change, especially as Winnipeg's Franco Magnifico is pressing for a wider range of infrastructure to be covered and there is strong support for ecological and social indicators to be extended to the municipal level which implies radically improved monitoring and signal infrastructure. The threat of pandemic influenza and the inability of any central agency to respond to such a widespread emergency has placed new emphasis on municipal autonomy in this area: the ability to ride out any challenge perhaps for months, and find new ways to create surge capacity especially in medical facilities.

Winnipeg as model?

Perhaps the most likely model is the way that Winnipeg has rebuilt its own emergency services around Canada's only biosafety level 4 lab - the National Microbiology Laboratory.

"There is so much redundancy, with reference to safety, built into this particular facility, that it’s not foolproof, but almost," claims Winnipeg Fire Chief Chandler. He and Police Capt. Spaur connected with their counterparts in the Winnipeg fire and police departments, consulting on emergency services issues. - quoted in interview.

The difference between "foolproof" and "almost" is obviously quite a serious concern, especially as the lab "is located just blocks from downtown Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba’s health sciences campus. It is in an older part of the city of 660,000 people, surrounded by a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial neighborhoods."

CEG recommendations 2004-5

On December 21, 2004, the Civic Efficiency Group made made specific recommendations to Infrastructure Canada directly via the Minister of State regarding how to account for the averted regrets and clarify and enhance the municipal role in emergency response. The exact text of what was presented is temporarily unavailable.

A City Signal Infrastructure Loan program was recommended. The recommendations were later extended to similar recommendations for the FCM, also unavailable temporarily.

In September 2005 another CEG member, Elio Di Iorio discussed these and other issues, e.g. the Death Pipe, with Minister Godfrey, in anticipation of the Canadian federal election, 2006 in which they were likely to become an issue given the US experience.

The 6C declaration of December 2005 was the final CEG input to the Government of Canada prior to the Canadian federal election, 2006 in which that government changed. It influenced the Montreal declaration but that declaration did not include any direct reference to the use of the same resilient infrastructure to respond to ordinary and extraordinary emergencies. It included however monetary reform measures that would make such response systems easier to gain credit for - a global scale version of the CEG loan proposal.

CEG recommendations 2006

At the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Cities Conference in February 2006, the CEG distributed a series of papers and analyses with the objective of forming a municipal-industrial consortium called a Civic Efficiency Collaborative to improve this work and integrate it with other efforts in the greening of government operations and continuous municipal performance audit including the most stringent such audit, actual emergency simulation exercises.

The feedback from this event was to be incorporated into a series of briefings for Stephen Harper's government emphasizing national security, municipal service continuity, accountability, transparency and efficiency goals that seemed likely to appeal to that government.

Simultaneously, provincial and major municipal recommendations were also to be prepared for 2006, especially in the run-up to the Ontario municipal elections, 2006 and the Nova Scotia provincial election, 2006.