Saving Ourselves

Sep 15, 2009

Partnerships for Safer Communities

Internationally, Canadians considered progressive, compassionate, smart, careful, etc. – all positive accolades for sure. But we’re also thought to be a bit naive which isn’t so good when it comes to getting prepared for natural disasters and catastrophic events. Global events over the years have taught us that large scale industrial accidents and super storms can hit without much if any warning.

One such event was the Bhopal, India chemical accident of 1984. More than 4,200 people were killed when, by accident, a chemical factory released large volumes of toxic gas into Bhopal’s pipelines. People either suffocated or were trampled to death.

Back then, Environment Canada stepped in and took leadership of Canada’s role in preventing further, similar events from happening again. In 1984 there was no federal department of Public Safety to take a natural leadership role. What happened then was a very positive initiative that may provide a vision of the future of public safety and security.

The future safety and security of Canadian communities is not the job of government alone. Really safe and secure communities cannot be imposed. Instead, Canadians will only be able to be confident that their communities are protected as best as possible from the potential ravages caused by natural disasters if there is a ­collaboration of interests from public and private institutions and people. This was the model that was embraced by the originally inspired Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada (MIACC).

According to the leading newsletter of the day, “… the MIACC’s stakeholder, non-governmental approach succeeded in driving home the message to both ­communities and the various industrial groups about the importance of prevention, preparedness, and emergency response. As a result, Canada is seeing a reduction in the number and the impact of industrial accidents. However, just like regulated nations, this is just the beginning, and many experts acknowledge that there is still a long way to go.” (AcuSafe News™, 1999)

At the end of the last decade, the MIACC spearheaded Canada’s role in establishing the Partnership Towards Safer Communities (PTSC). The PTSC was established in response to a known gap in the ability for communities across Canada to respond effectively to a natural or industrial disaster in the community. When the MIACC was disbanded in 1999 due to the funding inaction by the Federal Government, the Intellectual Property of the PTSC was transferred to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC).

Recently, the CAFC expressed an interest in reviving the PTSC. The new partnership, like the old one, is based on a model where all participants – governments at all levels, industry, and local officials such as First Responders – engage in making the community a safe place for Canadians. The original mission statement has survived: “To address increasing public safety risks by developing improved community emergency management programs based on international best practices and the four components of emergency management: mitigation/prevention; preparedness; response; and, recovery.”

By the time the initial report of the PTSC Working Group in 2001, all provincial Emergency Management Organizations (EMO), all federal government departments involved in safety or security, and many associations and other national bodies had indicated a willingness to work with the PTSC in a cooperative way and implement a cross-Canada program that would result in safer and more secure communities. As the PTSC report said in 2001, and it still holds true today, the PTSC “is the only national forum that facilitates cooperation between major private and public sector stakeholders to improve community emergency management in Canada.

Now is the time to revive the PTSC. The Federal Government has a mandate and capability now to support the emergency management capacity at the community level. Most of this capability now resides, since 9/11, in the Centre for Security Science and its 3 program areas: the  CBRN, Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI);  Public Security Technical Program (PSTP); and the Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC). A recent canvassing of many of the organizations that originally signed up for the PTSC program indicates they still support its full development and implementation.

Under the terms of the new charter, the PTSC will present a proposal for government funding to get the Program re-started. Once funded, however, the long term viability of the concept is dependent on the support of all partners and the ability of the partnerships to supply high quality safety products and services to the community. To put this initiative back in the hands of government control would likely doom it to failure in the long term. What will be required now is an analysis to determine exactly the business relationships that need to be set up to drive the future viability of the channel of service an products to the responders..

Finally Forward?
Twenty five years ago, the Canadian Government determined the need to set up something like the MIACC to deal with natural and industrial disasters. Ten years ago, the CAFC saw that the PTSC had something going for it that was unique, national in scope, and sustainable in scope and time, and workable as a safety system. Now, it’s time to put some meat on the bones and make a good idea work.

The wisdom of the CAFC in keeping the PTSC alive all these years should be used as the basis for developing it into an all hazards, totally interoperable system of community safety based on input and participation of all components of public and private organizations. The original partnership structure should work for the future of the PTSC. All originally identified partners plus others that were not active 10 years ago should be approached immediately. There are many important aspects of the project that dictate that a sequence of steps or project phases be set out and followed in order to be ultimately successful.

The exact nature of these “To-Dos” need to be decided by the stakeholders. The CAFC leadership is strong and capable of executing the plan from a management point of view. Now is the time to put it all together because we don’t know when next we will really need it!

Edward R. Myers is an Associate Editor of FrontLine Security magazine.
© FrontLine Security 2009