The reason for an emergency plan is simply that it saves lives and saves
money. The aim of a local emergency plan is to reduce the risk to life
and health the residents may face, and to reduce the damage to property
and environment that often results from an emergency. It does this by
allowing local officials and other agencies in the community to prepare
calmly and realistically for likely emergencies, to locate the resources
and the equipment that will be needed, to inform their citizens of the
dangers and the ways to avoid them, and to quickly arrange help when
help is needed. Obviously it is far easier to do all this before an
emergency strikes than during the confusion that normally accompanies
quickly expanding and disastrous events.
The Emergency Program Act, Sect. 6 (2) states:
"A local authority must prepare or cause to be prepared local
emergency plans respecting preparation for, response to and recovery
from emergencies and disasters."
The difference between planning and prevention
can reduce the risk of an emergency occurring. Planning can reduce the
seriousness of the consequences. If the Titanic had been designed and
built to withstand icebergs, it would not have sunk. That's prevention.
If it had carried more lifeboats, and conducted better lifeboat drills,
lives would have been saved when it sank anyway. That's planning.
Some emergencies - plane crashes, chemical spills, train derailments,
road accidents - can be prevented if the right kinds of preventative
measures are in place, if people are properly trained to follow them,
and if the safety rules are followed.
Others - floods, blizzards, earthquakes, and other Acts of God -
cannot be prevented, and the consequences are usually serious: loss of
life, injured or homeless people, damage to property, damage to the
local economy, and serious harm to your community's social and political
Proper planning will reduce the impact of both "person-caused"
and natural disasters and help your community recover faster. It will
also help you avoid the mistakes that are often made when an emergency
What are the chances of that happening?
need to plan for an emergency is closely connected to the perception of
risk: not just the perception that a risk exists, but that it involves
real and personal danger, that it has a fairly high probability of
happening, and that it is imminent - that it could occur tomorrow,
rather than some time in the infinite future.
For example, if your community straddles a major highway or rail line
where hazardous materials are regularly transported, your residents
probably believe there is a reasonable likelihood of a serious spill-
and with good reason. An estimated 35 per cent of all freight trains,
and one truck in ten, carries hazardous material. If your town is
built on a flood plain, you can reasonably expect to face high water.
Any prudent official should be prepared for these contingencies.
The emergencies that municipalities are likely to face can be sudden or
instantaneous: a fire, or explosion, for example. Even sudden
occurrences can be predictable, however. If the local dynamite factory
fails to enforce no smoking rules, a big bang may be a shock, but not a
surprise. Others may creep up on you gradually, like the steadily rising
water of biennial flood, or reports of increasing sickness in the
community from your public health officer. Proper emergency planning can
and should accommodate both types.
On the other hand, preparing to deal with an invasion of African killer
bees in a cold climate is probably a waste of time. You could do it, but
why bother? There are more probable - and worse - risks to contend with.
Stick with the risks you can see and anticipate; there are certain to be
enough of them.
Murphy's Law of Emergencies
emergency planning almost always leads to the unpleasant realization
that the next emergency is almost certainly going to be worse than the
last, a sort of Murphy's Law of Increasing Impact. A corollary of this
grim proposition is that emergencies are almost certainly going to be
more frequent in the future than they were in the past.
Natural emergencies - floods, earthquakes, blizzards - are probably no
more frequent now than they were 50 years ago. But the probability of
the earthquake hitting a densely-populated suburb today is higher than
50 years ago, because there is now more urban development, more of them
are densely-populated and some of them are in areas known to be at risk
from earthquakes- in the earthquake zones that border the west coast of
British Columbia, for example.
To the increased impact of Acts of God, add an increased
dependence on technology in a modern society, and the complexity and
fragility of the systems that keep our society functioning. Technology,
as the citizens of Bhopal can testify, is dangerous when it
malfunctions. And the complicated networks that make modern societies
work- electrical grids, road and transportation networks, communication
systems, and many others- are vulnerable to disruptions that are usually
Under these circumstances, pessimism is only reasonable. The fact that
your community has escaped until now makes it a more probable candidate
for the next- and worse- emergency. Murphy's Law rules.
How does planning help?
planning helps local authorities anticipate problems and possible
solutions. You won't be able to anticipate every contingency, but you
will be able to develop appropriate responses for a wide range of
occurrences. Those responses will enable your municipality to react
faster and more effectively, especially during the critical early hours
of an emergency. Simply knowing who should go where, and who does what,
will help save lives and property, reduce damage, and speed your
smaller communities act as though the risk of an emergency actually
occurring is so remote that it is pointless to plan. A more realistic
view is that smaller communities are more at risk from an emergency,
simply because they have fewer resources, and because their emergency
services are likely to have less experience in dealing with unexpected
events than similar services in big cities. Emergencies can occur in any
community, of any size.
What is an emergency?
that list are probably a number of occurrences you never really thought
of as emergencies. For purposes of this manual, an emergency can be
defined as a major event which requires a coordinated response from a
number of agencies. A three-car accident on your main street is probably
not an emergency; the police and the ambulance- and perhaps the fire
department- respond and do what they are trained to do. No further
direction or planning is required.
It is an emergency however when the three cars are joined by a tanker
truck with a cargo of dangerous chemicals which leaks into the
atmosphere or the local water system. That sort of occurrence would also
require coordinated responses from the municipal works or engineering
staff, the medical health officer, various environmental agencies, and
probably provincial or federal governments.
If the spill required the evacuation of some of your residents, the
emergency would also demand a response from social services agencies and
volunteer groups. And of course all of these would require effective
mechanisms for central control and coordination of the emergency
response team, which is exactly what effective emergency planning
What is an emergency plan?
might be easier to say what it is not. An effective emergency plan is
not a written document that is produced once and forgotten forever. Effective
planning - notice the emphasis - demands foresight and imagination in
foreseeing the hazards and knowing the risks the community realistically
faces, and the counter-measures that might help overcome these
Then it requires a plan to train all of the potential
participants, so everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Then it
requires testing, to be sure that the proposed counter-measures
actually work. Then it will require revision to correct the
deficiencies the test revealed. And then it will probably require
additional training for the participants, re-testing of the revised
plan, and further revisions.
Emergency preparedness will probably not become your full-time
occupation, although many local authorities do have a full-time
emergency planning coordinator who is responsible for developing the
emergency plan, planning training exercises and making revisions to the
plan as necessary. Other communities may assign a civic employee -
perhaps from the police, the fire department, or public works - to work
on emergency planning, either full or part-time. In some cases a
consultant may be hired for a specific period of time, especially when
the plan is first established.
Whether or not your community takes any of those steps, it is important
to realize that emergency planning is a process, not a product. Planning
is not a spasmodic activity, and it can not be regarded as something you
do once and never have to do again. Sorry.
Every emergency is different, but every one shares some common
- it involves some unusual or abnormal (and often unexpected)
- the situation has the risk of harm to health and safety or the
potential for damage to property;
- reducing that risk requires a prompt response from municipal
- that response will involve extraordinary procedures and actions
from municipal agencies and others.
every emergency plan is different, but all of them have some common
- it should contain some system for notifying the officials and
agencies who must respond;
- it should describe emergency operations procedures: how to
evacuate Main Street, when to call for help, and who to call for
- it should describe the structure of the organization which will
deal with the emergency- who's in charge, for example, and who
- it should describe the communications systems that will be used;
- it should assign responsibilities for various aspects of the
- it should produce a resource list for finding information,
contacts and equipment in a hurry;
- it should have some provision for dealing with the media (you
don't think that's necessary? Just wait) and for notifying the
Why you? Why not somebody else?
agencies - police, fire, emergency health services - are usually the
first responders to an emergency, and local authorities will be required
to put their emergency preparedness measures into action ahead of any
other organization. The initial response is critical in an emergency,
and it is the local response that makes it. So it is the local authority
that has to prepare the emergency plan, and to execute it.
That doesn't mean you have to do everything alone. The local government
is the first on the scene, but not the last. Local emergency plans
usually include some provision for sharing resources and mutual
assistance with neighbouring local authorities. There is also help
available from provincial ministries and agencies, and from the federal
Provincial ministries have developed a system for responding to various
types of emergencies. Your emergency plan should provide automatic
notification to the Provincial Emergency Program, Emergency Coordination
Centre (PEP (ECC)), 1-800-663-3456 any time an emergency might require
additional support. The PEP (ECC) will be able to assist in coordinating
support, resources and people to help you deal with the situation. It
will coordinate the response of other provincial agencies, and of the
federal government, if necessary.
The Provincial Emergency Program is also prepared to send staff to the
community to provide advice and liaison. It is especially important to
contact the Provincial Emergency Program first if federal assistance is
required because the bill for federal help will then go to the
provincial government, instead of your local council.
Emergency planning legal considerations
local authority must prepare or cause to be prepared local emergency
plans respecting preparation for, response to and recovery from
emergencies and disasters. This is a mandatory requirement of the
Emergency Program Act, RSBC Chap. 111 (1996), Section 6 (2).
The Municipal Act, RSBC, Chap. 290 should not be cited as the
legal basis for emergency planning.
Emergency planning, response or recovery may be
conducted without a declaration of an emergency. In British
Columbia, the additional authority, power or spending ability which may
be required for effective local response is enabled by a declaration of
a State of Local Emergency by the local authority or the head of the
local authority-that is, the Mayor of a municipality, or, for an
electoral area, the Chair of the board of a regional district (if the
regional district has been granted the powers of a municipality under
the Municipal Act, sect. 790 (2) (b).
If the Province of British Columbia requires additional authority,
power, or spending ability for effective overall provincial response, a State
of Emergency may be declared by the Lieutenant Governor in
Council, or the minister responsible for the Emergency Program Act
for major emergencies or disasters specified in the Act.
Persons acting under the authority of the Emergency Program Act
are protected from personal liability for damage caused by interference
with the rights of any person for exercising specified extraordinary
authority or power.