Shared Responsibility
© 2006 FrontLine Security (Vol 1, No 3)

Emergency management is a shared responsibility among all levels of government and all stakeholders. The likelihood of major incidents and the potential consequences are increasing as population density increases, the infrastructure ages, and society’s dependence on technology, information and just-in-time supply chain management grows. This dynamic management environment is becoming more uncertain as people begin to understand that they can no longer rely on historic control models.

Municipalities are in the front lines of all disasters, and all disasters are essentially local. Therefore, it is reasonable to keep asking if municipalities have sufficient resources and capacity to manage major incidents and sustain effective emergency management programs. More importantly, is the investment of resources by all levels of government, and others, producing the kind of emergency management system that Canadians expect and need, now and in the future?

A predominant assumption is that the people in the government organizations that are entrusted with managing this capability are change-weary, and that society needs to find a strategy that realizes profound improvements in capacity and resilience by making manageable changes.

Mind the Gap
There is a performance and capability gap, and there is a risk that this gap will increase unless sustainable adjustments are made to the system and emergency management process. The existing habits, management practices and distribution of power are limits to success. Making incremental changes is easy. Establishing a shared vision, sustaining the results, and managing the unintended consequences and risks are more challenging. The critical interventions and success factors are leadership, commitment and innovation at all levels of government.

System Levers
In a dynamic and uncertain world, historic tools like static policies, standards, compliance regimes, audits and inward-focused plans are not good enough. Alternatives to a reliance on top-down (or bottom-up), push-pull and/or hierarchical control models are needed.

Decision makers are missing key pieces of the puzzle, including performance metrics and integrated risk information. The problem is compounded at the local level that has fewer resources, and limited depth, process maturity and flexibility. Throwing capital money at problems and imposing new capabilities on municipalities, without ensuring ­sustainment of those capabilities as part of a larger system, jeopardizes the capabilities and puts unrealistic pressure on organizations that have limited capacity to absorb these responsibilities.

Balance Resources & Responsibility
A Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) study found that, “Most municipalities had high levels of property taxation and thus found it difficult to enlarge municipal budgets for prevention activities;” and “because of extremely tight municipal budgets, only modest increases in resources were allocated to emergency preparedness activities, at the expense of other municipal services…”

Existing funding models, like the Federal Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP), do not address local authority needs. In fact, providing capital funds to procure new equipment without providing sustainment resources only exacerbates the problem at the local level. This fragmented approach is especially problematic for emerging special capabilities including Chemical, Biological, Radiolo­gical, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE), and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR).

Empower People
Effective emergency management depends on people. Dedicated people are working at all levels of government, but do they have the right tools to complete the job? Larger municipalities are an incredible resource. They understand the public health, safety, security, social and economic environment. They have diverse experience and intimate knowledge of the local infrastructure, industry capabilities, cultures and volunteer community. However, the system is inherently unstable due to complex funding, planning and resource management processes, limited depth and breadth in local emergency management offices, and their vulnerability to absenteeism and staff turnover.

Even a slight shift of resources from the Federal and Provincial levels (which now receive 92% of every tax dollar) to the local level would have a dramatic impact – assuming that local politicians and management protect these resources, and emergency managers have appropriate authority and flexibility to complement their responsibility.

Large organizations have some flexibility to shift resources to important program activities like communications; relationship management; joint planning; exercises and training; requirements analysis; project management; risk, issue and opportunity management; cost, benefit and risk assessments; and performance measurement. However, small organizations are forced to contract out these activities, which does not maintain and create internal knowledge, or worse, they are compelled to minimize such activities, which can jeopardize the overall program and capability.

New approaches are needed to close the emerging gap between capability and the threat-risk-vulnerability environment. A systems approach is a critical success factor to create capacity at the local level, to sustain emerging special capabilities and to protect the investment at all levels. The key component of the system is its people. Relaxing constraints and controls at the local levels could free up resources, and create more flexibility and capacity in the system. Incremental improvements at multiple levels do not guarantee success. Less emphasis on control and coordination, and more focus on leadership, balanced resources and systems thinking is a reasonable start point to close the gap, sooner rather than later.

After serving as a Signal Officer in the Canadian Army, Ian Bayne was a business development manager for global system integrators in the aerospace and defence industry. Since 1997, he has been developing risk, IT security and business continuity management solutions for the federal and municipal levels of government, and for Canadian and international industry clients. He holds a Master of Science degree from the University of Leicester in Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management, and is currently a consultant. Ian can be reached at
© FrontLine Security 2006