Section 1

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

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 organizations.
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 strikes.

What are the chances of that happening?

The 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

Good 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.
Sampler of Local Emergencies 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 disastrous.
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?

Emergency 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 municipality's recovery.

Small Communities

Many 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?

In 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 provides.

What is an emergency plan?

It 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 situations.
What a Plan should Contain
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 characteristics:

  • it involves some unusual or abnormal (and often unexpected) situation;
  • 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 authorities;
  • that response will involve extraordinary procedures and actions from municipal agencies and others.

Similarly, every emergency plan is different, but all of them have some common features:

  • 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 help;
  • it should describe the structure of the organization which will deal with the emergency- who's in charge, for example, and who helps;
  • it should describe the communications systems that will be used;
  • it should assign responsibilities for various aspects of the emergency response;
  • 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 public.

Why you? Why not somebody else?

Local 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 government.
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

A 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.