Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Evolution of Emergency Management

You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard the resounding thud of the Ontario Auditor General's report on the state of emergency management in Canada's most populated province hitting the desks of the emergency management community in Canada.(report) I for one was not shocked by the findings and believe most jurisdictions in Canada would see similar criticism if subject to an OAG review.

For generations, provincial level emergency management has been an after thought.  Historically staffed by second career fire/police/military retirees who were expected to be seen and not heard.  These legacy EMOs were counted on to create order in the otherwise chaotic response phase of large scale disaster and otherwise quickly to be ignored again once the situation was restored and recovery programs began to hand out government grants.

After 9/11 it was clear to elected officials that the public had an expectation of the EMO cavalry galloping in to defeat any hazard, risk or terrorist.  But the costs and the growth that would be needed to meet that expectation could not compete with the schools, hospitals, roads and bridges built to ensure tangible things could be pointed to when an election rolled around.  After all the last thing most governments want claim at election time is they added more civil servants.

So in this era of increased public expectation, EMOs were given very little new resources to modernize and adapt to the new reality.  Provincial EMOs were left to the task of preparedness and response in the modern context with resources more suited to the National Survival primordial ooze from which provincial EMOs emerged.

I am hopeful that the public shaming of our most densely populated economic engine, will lead to a national discussion of the investment required to truly meet the realities and expectations of modern emergency management.There are already several emerging national strategies that will aid in this effort, Canada's emerging Broadband Public Safety Network and the expanding National Public Alerting Systems are modern capabilities that will go a long way to enhance capacity at even the most modest EMO.

We are also starting to see an expansion in post secondary degrees and diplomas which will lead to firmly establishing emergency management as a profession in Canada.  These emerging professionals will eventually take over the leadership roles from folks like me (second career), bringing with them the education and experience to combine the historical EMOs with modern thinking.

I know my former colleagues in the EMO's across Canada are shifting uncomfortably at there desks at the moment waiting for their own leaders to ask how they compare to Ontario.  It would seem to me that if your not uncomfortable you just don't get it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I'm Back

This week I begin the next phase of my working life.  I have retired from government service after some 10 years at the helm of a provincial emergency measures organization. You will notice a long gap in my posts, that was not of my choosing but as a senior official I was advised that there could be a perceived conflict. That constraint has been removed.

I have considerable time on my hands and no less passion for emergency management, resilience and good public policy so I hope to contribute to the growing professional dialogue via blogging and other professional social media.

Lately I have been pondering the challenge of innovation within government.  My experience leads me to conclude the that the desire to innovate runs contrary to the desire to control all activities in a risk adverse world.

Staff have a deep and diverse understanding of what works well and what needs change in their program area.  Senior leaders are continually messaging the need for innovation to improve government services to the public and openly encourage staff to innovate.  But in the journey from idea to execution it would seem to the innovators, the system of control (DM committees, TB secretariat as well central agencies for procurement, technology and HR) are put in place to test the innovators resolve.

Think of it like this:  a manager has an idea to improve his/her program. First they have to convince their bosses (and maybe their boss's boss) that the idea has merit and is worth the effort (not easy in times of dwindling resources).  Most change in government involves some combination of new equipment, new technology or changes to the work force.  Now it is up to the innovator to get buy in from one or more of the central agencies to support their idea for change. You are now asking managers outside your program area and ministry/department to set aside space in their agenda to facilitate your crazy new idea.  Not easy and we still have asked for money, which is another exercise in breaking through the control mechanisms.  I know many managers who have run this gauntlet only to watch their idea wither from a lack of support.

True innovation culture allows freedom to experiment at all levels of the organization.  It requires a level of trust of management and a willingness to allow failure.  In today's risk adverse culture that seems nearly impossible.

So while senior leaders continue the mantra of the need to innovate it rings hollow when it is not accompanied by the necessary freedom of actions and a true culture of trust and innovation.

I am sure there are examples of organizational culture in government which embraces and delivers true innovative services to the public and I would be happy to hear of them in response to this rant.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I have been re-reading a couple of Chubbm's blog posts on R4 Resilience. What Mr. Chubb drives home in both of these articles rings very true with this Recovery professional. I have been writing for some time on the theme of Holistic Recovery and the need to be innovative and even daring when faced with the task of recovering from a catastrophic event.

Pehaps the first phase is to bring Recovery truly under the Emergency Management umbrella and spend as much effort on having excellent recovery programs as we do in preparedness, response and mitigation.

I highly recommend Failure is Fertilizer and Recovery: 8 Principles vs. 12 Steps as primers for more engagement on Natural Disaster Recovery.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Not having the budget to trek down under to hear Ken Simpson’s presentation to the BCI Summit, I have settled for the next best thing…I reviewed his slide deck at Contemplating.

As with my previous post on a Profession in Transition, Ken subtly (at least without a script or speaker’s notes it appears subtle) suggests that EM and BCM are converging. I work at a rather complex level service delivery and I can tell you that when we examined our maturing BCM program it led to a similar convergence. So much so that Emergency Managers are cross training as Business Continuity Managers and taking ownership of the whole BCM program as a sub-component of the Disaster Management program.

This was done when it appeared to the EM world that BCM seemed to be satisfied once the plan was written. In fairness the task of developing a BCM program in our organization was enormous and as a result the focus was tended to be on compliance. This level of satisfaction was seen as complacency which frightened the Emergency Management crowd; you know the ones who see cascading effects around every corner and seem to want to push the dynamic nature of disasters (wicked problems) on the BCM planners.

It has yet to be tested, but it would appear that though this example of convergence, we paid attention to the techniques and processes of BCM while applying the more general concepts of EM to the finished BCM plans.