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Lessons from Calgary’s summer emergency responses to be taken back to Ottawa

The lessons from Calgary’s disaster and evacuee aid response to the Northwest Territories fires, along with the structure and preparedness of Calgary’s emergency management agency are to be taken back to Ottawa.

Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjitt Sajjan visited Calgary on Nov. 7, in order to personally visit with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency and members of Canada Task Force 2, following the successful summer of responses to local and national crises.

“Eventually what we’re working towards is how do we all start working more seamlessly together across the country, and how we can support one another across boundaries. Not just from municipalities, but more importantly, by provinces, as well.”

“Alberta really stepped up strongly this season, to support the Northwest Territories and we’re very appreciative of the work that they did.”

Minister Sajjan said that part of the reason for visiting was a desire from the federal government to revamp the emergency response system from the federal level down to the municipal level, in order to remove systematic barriers that prevent fast and effective responses to crises.

“One thing I found is that when there’s an emergency going on, everybody just gets things done, and that’s what you need to do. But what you don’t want to do is rely on relationships in a time and emergency, and that’s how we’re able to get through a lot of those,” he said.

“What we want to do is actually have a system in place that can manage a multitude of emergencies. What we want to do is once we start building, figuring out the system, is make sure it’s catered for the unique needs of each province as well and the territories, and then exercise it and stress test it so that you know it’s going to work.”

The summer, said Minister Sajjan, was an example of how those stress tests as Canada faced hundreds of wildfires, multiple evacuations, floods, and hurricanes.

“Everybody did everything well, but people were stretched thin. We had to bring international firefighters in, the Canadian Armed Forces were called, but at the same time we got things done because of the relationships that have been built over year after year of climate-induced disasters,” Minister Sajjan said.

He said that Calgary is already very well served and that the firsthand lessons from the city to addressing problems in emergency response will help other parts of the country address their issues.

“I’ll be looking at taking a lot of these lessons and pointing to some of the other provinces to take a look at it, and maybe how we can use this as a model for the rest of the country,” Sajjan said.

Calgary technology looked at to provide emergency management solutions

On the funding front, Minister Sajjan said that there were opportunities for Calgary companies to become involved in federal procurement of technologies used in emergency management and search and rescue.

“The last thing you want to do is during an emergency trying to work out procurement issues, and normally what we try to do is when it comes to very quick response, the province will take the lead in acquiring what’s needed. Then how we do work federally is through the Disaster Financial Assistance arrangement,” Sajjan said.

“This is the time to look at what those new proposals of what there might be. What I would like to see is making sure that our industries continue to see and look at what those needs are, so they can develop the new technology and then we can look at utilizing them.”

Among those technologies that he said the federal government is interested in are the use of drones for analyzing wildfires, and the use of drone-based LIDAR for structure mapping and emergency response.

“The situational awareness piece that I saw at the emergency operation centre, I was very impressed with that. That is probably one of the one of the key things that’s needed for decision makers,” Sajjan said.

Municipal funding of emergencies to remain through province

Federal funding for municipal responses to inter-provincial and inter-territorial emergencies would remain at the discretion of provincial authorities, said Minister Sajjan.

He said that the onus would be on local municipal councils, Calgary’s included, to ensure that they request funding through the provincial government to receive supportive funding through disaster financial assistance funds.

“It’s up to them to make sure that they apply to the provincial government, because of whatever they put in, and then they put it into us… our goal is to quickly analyze it and get about 50 per cent of the funding within [those requests] within a year,” he said.

The system as it is in place, he said, was already providing effective financial support to cover emergencies.

“Because of all the disasters that we’ve had because of the because of climate change, the numbers are already up to about eight billion in less than a decade or so.”