Partnerships Towards Safer Communities

Dec 15, 2010

From a Vision to Reality

A few months ago, the concept of a nationwide Canadian emergency management network was just that – a concept, a dream. Today, ­Partnerships Towards Safer Communities Online (PTSC-Online) is a reality. Its growing membership has a good grasp on current issues facing Canadian emergency managers and are deriving value from their participation in this program.

Those Emergency Management (EM), Business Continuity (BC), and ­Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) professionals who are now beginning to enjoy the benefits of PTSC-Online membership asked some key questions before becoming involved:

What is PTSC-Online?
From a technical perspective, PTSC-Online is a Canadian virtual online community built on a software platform which provides blogs, discussion forums, wikis, member profiles and other tools to facilitate collaboration. It is integrated with popular social media channels such as FacebookTwitter and YouTube to strengthen its commu­nication and collaboration capabilities.

Canadians who develop and maintain emergency management, business continuity and critical infrastructure programs are now working together to share best practices, collaborate on current issues and, in general, help each other do their jobs. Initiated by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC), the PTSC-Online Community will continue to enjoy the leadership of the CAFC as the program expands.

Through an aggressive outreach program, the CAFC is sending the message that PTSC-Online is not just for those who are responsible for, or work on, programs to help make our communities more resilient. It includes and welcomes emergency management students and suppliers who support our emergency management programs.

Why Participate?
Why did the CAFC sponsor PTSC-Online? Why did Public Safety Canada provide financial support to get it started? Why are organizations such as the Canadian Standards Association, the National Fire Protection Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and emergency management and business continuity associations, all participating in PTSC-Online? Why are individual community and industry emergency managers and business continuity professionals joining?

The answer is, they all face the challenge of doing more with fewer resources, and they recognize that collective efforts can be greater than the sum. They understand the need to break down silos to work more effectively to help Canadian communities and industry become more resilient to withstand emergencies and business interruptions. They recognize that online technology can help provide a solution but the real key is to get involved themselves and participate in the collaboration process.

How did the Community Build?
The PTSC-Online Community has matured from being a vision of Don Warden, CAFC’s Executive Director, into an active on-line community. It grew to over 100 members in its first few months and continues to build steadily. Members are dedicated professionals working in Emergency Management or Business Continuity fields in public and ­private sectors and not for profit organizations from across Canada.

To ensure the long term sustainability of PTSC-Online, a steering committee, ­representing key stakeholders, has been formed and is diligently working on a structure to ensure that the benefits being seen by members today can be extended well into the future.

What are the Main Issues?
The three main focus areas in PTSC-Online are standards for emergency management and business continuity programs; collaboration to help implement programs; and program accreditation. Updates are posted on these topics including: the developing CSA and NFPA standards; collaboration between a community emergency management program and an amateur radio club to improve emergency communication; and efforts (sponsored by the International Association of Emergency Managers Canadian Chapter) to make program accreditation available in Canada.

Issues range from discussing the implications of government policy – such as the proposed $35.8 million cuts to Public Safety Canada’s budget, or the challenges of complying with the emergency response provisions of new Ontario propane regulations. On a very practical level, the PTSC-Online Community has engaged in formulating a discussion around current emergency management challenges such as the BC wildfires.

The topics discussed on PTSC-Online will change with the interests and concerns of its members because, unlike a traditional web site, PTSC-Online is an online community where members post and comment on articles, participate in discussions and add information to a wiki knowledge base that is of interest to themselves and the many other members from their sector.

A section in PTSC-Online is dedicated to suppliers of emergency management related goods and services. It allows suppliers to list their company in a directory, announce upcoming events in a suppliers’ calendar, and explain the products and services they offer in a suppliers blog. Although only a few suppliers are participating to date, the feedback received from them has been very positive because it has stimulated discussion between the suppliers and potential purchasers.

What are the Key Challenges?
PTSC-Online needs to demonstrate value to its members and supporters to attract the financial support required for it to become a vibrant sustainable Canadian emergency management community. It has clearly demonstrated that the technology works for the members who have chosen to use it. Feedback from those members has been very positive. The essential challenge is to increase the level of member participation so more PTSC-Online members will get a greater return for the time they invest participating in the Community. With over 8000 views of the PTSC-Online home page and articles which have been viewed over 300 times, there is clearly an interest in the topics being discussed.

It is important for members to provide feedback to keep discussion rolling. To quote Christel Hollinger, the first municipal Community Emergency Management Coordinator to join PTSC-Online, and the Communications Chair for the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers, “One comment is an opinion … many is an irrefutable message.” As members coalesce in opinion, benefits to members and their causes will increase in direct proportion.

John Lindsay, with the University of Brandon emergency management program, suggests that PTSC-Online can break the stovepipe mentality that has stymied efforts at collaboration in the past. He predicts that PTSC-Online will be the first to “tear down that wall.” This is exactly what PTSC-Online aims to do by sharing the technology and power of the online community to help other organizations such as associations, communities and even government departments more effectively network and collaborate on emergency management issues.

What is the PTSC Vision?
The CAFC’s vision for PTSC-Online is to become the premier information and collaboration forum for Canadian emergency management, business continuity and critical infrastructure program professionals. Don Warden views the Community growing to meet its members’ and supporters’ needs and sharing its state-of-the-art collaboration technology with other organizations thereby helping them improve emergency programs for their own local, regional or national mandate.

“I’ve been checking the [PTSC-Online] site very regularly and I think that all the ingredients for its continued success are present,” commented Patrice Cloutier, a respected senior EM/BC coordinator. “It’s only a matter of time before more people start realizing its enormous potential as a forum for the exchange of ideas, best practices and as a source of inspiration and knowledge.”

William MacKay, President of MacKay Emergency Management Consulting, is leading the development of the PTSC-Online Community on behalf of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.
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