Partnerships for Safer Communities
BY WILLIAM F. MacKAY
© 2010 FrontLine Security (Vol 5, No 1)

Determined to avoid such a disaster in Canada, and concluding that there was a need for governments and industry to work “interdependently” to prevent an industrial accident of the Bhopal sort federal and provincial government departments and industry formed the Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada (MIACC). One of MIACC’s major programs was Partnerships Toward Safer Communities (PTSC). An early participant in MIACC was Bill MacKay, a leading consultant in the area of Emergency Management.  Today, MacKay wonders whether we have broken down those old silos or retreated further into them as we are all forced to do more with less? As he read FrontLine’s article (fall ‘09), the old passion for the work began to stir again.  “We were really onto something special back then,” he thought.  “The PTSC was a great idea; could it be that there is finally the political will to make it a reality? Maybe now is the right time!?”

The Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada (MIACC) facilitated collaboration between the public and private sectors, thereby preventing or reducing the probability of a major industrial accident and improving our collective capability to respond. Much was done in the areas of process safety management, risk management and emergency response to get public and private sector stakeholders working together through MIACC sponsored working groups and conferences and through the formation of PTSC.  Government support to continue these collaborative efforts started to decline and, eventually, without sufficient funding, MIACC was forced to cease operation in 1999.

Understanding the value of improving such interoperability and collaboration, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) stepped up to the plate and offered to take over PTSC.

Don Warden, then President of the CAFC, was really the key mover behind this interest in carrying on the PTSC program. The passion that Warden brought to the campaign to keep the PTSC alive was remarkable.  Under his leadership, the CAFC worked diligently to rally government and industry supporters to continue operating PTSC. The fire chiefs want to continue to help prevent a major hazmat (hazardous materials) incident in Canada as it would have significant potential to cause extreme harm in the communities they work hard to protect.

CAFC and other stakeholders worked diligently to continue Partnerships Towards Safer Communities, and some progress was made.  Unfortunately many supporting organizations, burned when MIACC ceased operation, were reluctant to support CAFC. Finally, in 2005, with dwindling hope of receiving financial support, PTSC was put back on the shelf.

Hazmat Response Visioning
One of the PTSC-related projects that Bill MacKay led was a hazmat visioning project that involved three levels of government and industry from across Canada; it had developed clear recommendations to improve hazmat response in Canada.  

Much had been accomplished; recommendations were ready for publication, plans to encourage and facilitate implementation were we being developed, and all else seemed ready to go. The recommendations applied to hazmat response and emergency response in general, however, without support for implementation, they continue to sit on the shelf.  The high level recommendations, summarized below, still apply today:

  • CONSISTENCY
    Consistently implement standards for emergency preparedness and response
  • COLLABORATION
    Improve collaboration within the public and private sectors and between the public and private sectors
  • COMMUNICATION
    Improve communication among key stakeholders and with the public

Progress and Challenges
Have we made progress since PTSC ceased operation? What are the gaps today?

Significant progress has been made on the PTSC goal of developing guidelines for community and industrial emergency management programs, however, they are not consistently followed (possibly die to a lack of awareness).  The NFPA 1600 and CSA Z1600 emergency management and business continuity program standards incorporated many PTSC guidelines, and are considered comprehensive world class standards. Furthermore, NFPA and CSA technical committees are in place to continuously improve these standards. Unfortunately, many who could benefit are either not aware of these standards or choose not to use them. A few Canadian communities strive to meet CSA Z1600, but many reluctantly meet only the minimum legislated requirements. This same gap applies also to other levels of government and public sector organizations. Generally, the lack of awareness of either of these two standards (or a lack of will to use them) poses a problem since they are critical to effective and efficient emergency planning for communities and other public sector organizations – including our schools, colleges and universities.  In the private sector, some companies meet the standards but many do not.

There is clearly a need to raise awareness about emergency management standards, to encourage their use, to develop and share best practices for implementing standard based programs and to recognize organizations that choose to meet them.  This is what Partnerships Toward Safer Communities was about, and the need is still there.

The Future for PTSC
Now that we have emergency management standards, the biggest challenge is to encourage their use for developing and upgrading emergency management and business continuity programs.  If PTSC is to be revived, what will be its primary purpose and how can it be organized most effectively to learn from past failures? The following suggestions may assist:

First, start with the best available standard; PTSC needs to work with the Canadian Standards Association and use the CSA Z1600 Canadian emergency management standard as the basis for a new PTSC.  This involves working with CSA to encourage use of Z1600.  It also involves developing and sharing best practices for implementing Z1600. Equally important, it involves communication and dialogue with the Z1600 technical committee to recommend upgrades to the standard.

Second, a compliance measurement must be established to gauge effectiveness of the overall emergency management program and provide recognition for good performance. It will help to work with the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) and a number of Canadian organizations which have been working with EMAP for the past few years to make EMAP available in Canada. More partnerships to develop!

Third, technology must be used effectively to build and administer a new PTSC and rally the partners for a common cause. On-line communities using new social networks provide a way for potential supporters, stakeholders and users to collaborate without the need for costly administration, facilities, or travel. Some face to face meetings and workshops will certainly be required but they should be used only when necessary and to complement a sound web-based administration and communication system. To communicate with potential users and the public, a communication strategy that incorporates social media in addition to traditional media, should definitely be considered.

It is exciting to follow efforts to revive the PTSC.  

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In addition to operating MacKay Emergency Management Consulting Inc. and 30+ years emergency management related experience in the oil and chemical industry, William MacKay has extensive experience in leading and supporting cooperative solutions to improve emergency management. His experience has involved both public and private sector projects for improved oil, chemical and LPG response.
© FrontLine Security 2010

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