Until we resolve chronic underfunding, Canada will continue to fail in emergency management

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THE CONVERSATION

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source for information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Jack Lindsay, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies, Brandon University

The COVID-19 pandemic is different from the disasters with which Canadians are more familiar. Part of the public’s confusion stems from the fact that the pandemic does not follow the usual pattern of media coverage with stories of first responders facing immediate damage and damage and then moving on to the next story.

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Instead, we had nearly two years of public health and safety orders that drastically changed the way we work, travel and live. While requiring evacuation in a flood or forest fire makes good sense, we have been faced with emergency orders that vary across the country, come and go with each wave and have divided the communities.

These emergency orders outline the course of disasters and the state of the emergency management system in Canada. Some characters are familiar, such as mayors and fire chiefs, while others are just as important although they are rarely mentioned. To understand the role of these emergency managers, we need to understand disasters.

Disasters are more consequences

It is easy to think of disasters simply as the events that cause them. A tornado, an earthquake, or a plane crash can all come to mind as examples of disasters.

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But on December 17, 2021, there was an earthquake in British Columbia which was not a disaster as there was no destruction or loss of major lives. This shows that there is a threshold that an impact must cross to be considered a disaster.

This threshold varies from place to place, changes over time and can have a different impact on different parts of our communities. This is evident in Canada, where a few inches of snow can close Vancouver, but it does not matter in Saskatoon.

This threshold is really determined by the ability of the community to cope using their normal resources and methods.

In routine emergencies, we rely on our first responders who work with partners in the healthcare industry and sometimes utility companies and others.

But in a disaster, these normal resources and relationships either lack the capacity to meet the demand – like when a mudslide closes a road and no fire engine can arrive – or they don’t. capacity, like when an entire city is lit. fire and there are simply not enough firefighters.

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In these situations, emergency management provides strategies to expand our resources.

When these conditions arise, communities must take extraordinary measures. The federal government and each province have emergency management legislation that authorizes them to take actions that are not normally considered acceptable.

These laws define who can declare a formal state of emergency and what special powers the government can apply to help deal with the crisis. Most Canadians are now familiar with these powers, as governments have used some of them to deal with the pandemic.

Cracks have been discovered

Each province has an emergency management system, usually at the local level, designed to guide our responses. The pandemic shows the flaws in these systems.

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The public is asking for disaster relief. Politicians are hearing their demands and responding with first responders and financial assistance. The public is informed of these actions through the media, which can create a sense of misplaced satisfaction that silences demands to properly prepare for future disasters and fund preparedness initiatives.

Behind the scenes, in fact, emergency management systems often malfunction due to long-term underfunding. The underlying problem is that emergency management resources do not match the importance of what they need to do in the event of a disaster. This shortfall only appears in the middle of the disaster, when everything seems to be failing.

It is difficult to determine exactly how much is spent on emergency management in Canada, or to compare it fairly to other countries, as systems and budget lines vary. The 2021 budget line for emergency management was approximately $ 273.8 million, or approximately $ 7 per Canadian. In the United States, the 2021 budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was approximately US $ 14.5 billion (C $ 18.6 billion), or nearly US $ 55 per US citizen.

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The pandemic is expected to bring about significant changes in Canada’s emergency management system. Unfortunately, officials are more likely to congratulate themselves, show courage in responding to any official requests or adverse media coverage, and then allow emergency management to continue to underperform.

Accept the status quo

Politicians will accept this status quo because it costs nothing. The media will move on and the public will have a false sense of security. Then we will repeat the dance over and over as each new disaster devastates our unprepared communities.

The pandemic exposes the symptoms of this neglect. As the media and first responders focus on the cause of the disaster – in this case COVID-19, but it could be the next earthquake or wildfire – the emergency management system is also expected to deal with social and economic consequences.

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These longer-term, community-based problems require planning and resources just as much as the initial physical response. However, the emergency management system is poorly funded and lacks constant attention between disasters. Chronic underfunding has undermined confidence in emergency management, causing the public, media and political leaders to distrust the system when it is needed most.

It creates a leadership vacuum. During the pandemic, public health practitioners are expected to go beyond their areas of expertise and make decisions that would be better supported by emergency management. Such support requires resources and organizational recognition of the role.

Addressing these shortcomings is urgently needed if Canadians are to rely on our emergency management system in a future of more serious events. However, solutions will require political will – a commodity as scarce as toilet paper in a pandemic.

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Jack Lindsay has received funding in the past from Public Safety Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. He is affiliated with the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network (CRHNet), the Canadian chapter of the International Association of Emergency Managers and currently contributes to Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: https://theconversation.com/until-we-address-chronic-underfunding-ca https://theconversation.com/until-we-address-chronic-

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