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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Emergency Bafflegab Preparedness Part 1

North America's attention has been fixated on emergency preparedness issues for most of the past fortnight, be it tropical storms in the Caribbean and US or tainted meat and cheese in Canada, (though Alaskan, pregnant, teenage puck-bunnies are coming up strong and will soon knock them from their perch).

A timely report was released in Ottawa today by the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence entitled
"EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN CANADA: How the fine arts of bafflegab and procrastination hobble the people who will be trying to save you when things get really bad . . . ". It's a follow up on their 2004 report Canada’s Fragile Front Lines in which Senator Colin Kenney, (who was banging the drum on improved defence, security and e.p. issues long before they were sexy), and crew looked at Canada's capabilities should a Sepetember 11-esque event take place here. The 2008 report is broader than just terrorist attacks, it also looks at things from communications issues to public health crises as well.

The report can be found here: www.parl.gc.ca/common/Committee_SenRep.asp?Language=E&Parl=39&Ses=2&comm_id=76

The title of the report sort of gives away the ending ! Their conclusion is failure on pretty much every front:

"This follow-up report gives new meaning to the word discouraging. Seven years have elapsed since September 11, 2001. Yet despite all the bureaucratic promises from three successive governments progress is still “just around the corner”. And Canada’s emergency preparedness capacity is clearly still thin and fragmented.. "

The report comes in a number of volumes. The first volume is the report proper and the second volume and supplementals are interviews and responses to a detailed questionnaire that the committee provided to 100 municipalities around Canada to see how prepared they were (Brandon's responses are on page 44 and Winnipeg's on page 266).

From the brief executive summary :

Just a tiny sampling of the Committee’s continued concerns: municipalities get initial grants for emergency planning but little in the way of follow-up money to maintain or improve their readiness; there is no centralized system of funneling “lessons learned’ and “best practices” to first responders who will have to deal with emergencies on the front lines; there is still no system that would force the communications industry to keep citizens informed during emergencies; overall emergency planning (and funding) is “top-down” – federal and provincial bureaucrats issue edicts to municipalities to prepare for emergencies without listening to first responders . . . and so on.There are at least a score of major issues that deserve serious (and timely) attention.

It's a few hundred pages long so I am still slogging through it but it is worth attention before the puck-bunnies distract us from disaster preparedness and we forget to ask about it during the likely soon to be called federal election.

UPDATES:

- The Globe and Mail has done a story on today's report.

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