Action Required: Help shape the future of BC Emergency Management

 On July 30, 2015, Honorable Naomi Yamamoto was appointed BC Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness under the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/premier-cabinet-mlas/minister-letter/naomi_yamamoto_mandate_letter.pdf.

This appointment seems to have revitalized recognition of the critical role of Emergency Management BC (EMBC) through a formal connection of this branch of government to Critical Infrastructure, as well as a renewed commitment to implementation of the Renteria report: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/embc/renteria_eq_consultation_report_2014.pdf

Context

This apparent change is heartening, especially for those of us who recognize the vital role of Emergency Management in policy-operations frameworks. Since the cabinet shuffle, we have seen what seems to be further proof of commitment; some big changes in the approach to Emergency Management by the Province:

  • A significant restructuring of Cabinet responsibilities, including the shift of Emergency Management from __ to Ministry of Transportation and infrastructure.
  • A $10 million commitment for B.C. ground search and rescue (https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016TRAN0011-000096)
  • A stronger presence by the political leadership in response, including the ‘resilience centre’ created in August 2015 as part of the response to wildfires in Rock Creek and Oliver.

 

Time for action

As some of you may be aware, the latest action comes in the form of a review of the Emergency Program Act. The process will consist of 7 main discussions, and aims to include feedback from local government agencies: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/emergencyprogramact/

While it has received very little coverage from the media, this is perhaps the strongest statement of commitment to renewal a government could make.

The Emergency Program Act is the driving force behind all emergency management activities in the province. It provides the Minister, regional authorities, local governments, and others with important tools, as well as the abilities and measures, necessary to respond to emergencies, as well as to carry out the important preparedness and planning activities necessary to help protect the public. A review of this legislation is equivalent to inspecting the foundation of the structure of governance, and it’s kind of a big deal.

A discussion paper on the legislative framework for BC dated January 2016 lays out the scope and direction of the intended revision: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/emergencyprogramact/files/2016/01/EMBC_Discussion_Paper.pdf. A number of challenges are highlighted, which can be summarized as follows:

  • The fundamental concepts and structure of the Act do not reflect the internationally recognized ‘phase approach’ to emergency management
  • The definition of ’emergency’, ‘hazard’, ‘program’ and ‘disaster’ are not in line with current knowledge and practice
  • The concept of ‘local authority’ does not acknowledge or include Treaty First Nations or the Nisga’a Lisims Governments
  • Emergency Management BC is not referenced in the current act,
  • There is a lack of definition regarding roles and responsibilities within emergency management
  • Assignment of emergency planning and other duties is currently by way of regulation, and assignment by the Lieutenant Governor in Council (LGIC)
  • The minister does not currently have the power to require changes to the emergency plans of local authorities
  • Act does not set out responsibilities of private sector, non-government organizations, nor owners of critical infrastructure assets
  • ‘shared responsibility’ framework to emergency response is not reflected in the Act, and responsibility of the key stakeholders is not defined
  • When and how to declare a state of emergency is not completely clear
  • There is no explicit provision for the collection or disclosure of information during a state of emergency
  • There is no authority defined for the enforcement of evacuation orders
  • Employment protection currently covers only those ordered to provide assistance during an emergency

The paper serves as a concise and apparently well-constructed overview of current challenges and also offers suggestions to guide the revision process and discussion. Additionally, it points to provincial legislation in other provinces for reference and guidance. Notably, this includes the Ontario Emergency Management Act section 7.0.1: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90e09/v2#BK13, which provides criteria for declaration of a state of emergency – which is noted as a significant omission to the BC act.

The province is currently asking for local governments to provide feedback on the document, as well as recommendations for review of the EPA. The deadline for input is February 19, 2016. This gives the emergency management community 3 weeks to provide recommendations or suggestions of their own. Input will be assessed by the Ministry of State for Emergency Preparedness, and a report will be prepared for submission to the Cabinet Committee on Secure Tomorrow.

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) provides an overview of the recent statement from EMBC: http://www.ubcm.ca/EN/meta/news/news-archive/2016-archive/emergency-program-act-review-underway.html

Submissions should be provided by email to the Province: citizenengagement@gov.bc.ca, and the UBCM is also encouraging all local government feedback to be copied to Bhar Sihota: bsihota@ubcm.ca, Policy Analyst.

Let’s hope that this small window of opportunity leads to a full and inclusive discussion with stakeholders, and ultimately an innovative and effective legislative framework for years to come.

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