Monday, January 12, 2015

Disaster Management: Who Takes the Lead in Canada?

Identifying the organisation responsible for coordinating the response in the case of a disaster is not necessarily an easy task as it depends both on the the location (i.e. country, region, etc), scale (i.e. statewide, regional, national, local, etc) and type of emergency.  As a Canadian, I was interested to find out which organisation would take the lead in the event of a national emergency in my home country.  As embarrassed as I am to say that I had never looked into Canada's national emergency response system, the fact that I am unfamiliar with the body in charge highlights how few disasters our country has had and therefore how fortunate we have been.

Nevertheless, it would be good to know who takes the reigns, especially in case I ever work in disaster management in Canada.

The Health Canada website explains that in the case of most emergencies, Public Safety Canada (a federal government body) will organise the response in the health sector at the federal level and provide funding if and when necessary to the affected provinces and/or territories (Health Canada 2012).

However, Health Canada becomes the lead organisation in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency.  In such an event, Health Canada is responsible for enacting the response according to the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan (FNEP) as well as coordinating with the American authorities through the Canada-US Joint Radiological Response Plan should the emergency affect or require contributions from both countries (Health Canada 2011; Health Canada 2012).  The agency is also responsible for working with Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada to implement the Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol in the event of a contaminated food outbreak (Health Canada 2011; Health Canada 2012).  They are charged with providing emergency health care to Canada's First Nations and Inuit communities as well as aiding managers provide help to employees who have experienced a traumatic event in the workplace through the Psycho-social Emergency Preparedness and Response programme (Health Canada 2011; Health Canada 2012). They provide grants to the blood service agencies to help decrease collection and testing time and thus increase inventory (Health Canada 2012).  Finally, they help to minimise the health and economic impacts of disasters and extreme events through the the Applied Research & Analysis Directorate and in the event of a chemical emergency, they offer support and expert knowledge through the Chemical Emergency Response Unit (CERU) (Health Canada 2012).

The health response for all other health-related emergencies is led and overseen by the Public Health Agency of Canada (Health Canada 2012).  The response is carried out through the activation of the health portfolio's Emergency Operations Centre and coordination with the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (Health Canada 2012).

Ultimately, all of the organisations that are responsible for taking the lead in the event of an emergency in Canada are government bodies.  They also have various plans and channels through which they coordinate their responses with other bodies and organisations.  All of those working relationships have already been established and many of the bodies are interconnected in various ways (especially all of the government bodies).  This makes sense as Canada is a developed country with a trusted and stable government, plenty of local resources and a well-organised system.  It is not expected in Canada that there would be a disaster scenario that the government could not or would not mobilise the resources for and mount an appropriate response to.


Health Canada 2011, Emergency Response, viewed 8 January 2015,

Health Canada 2012, Emergencies and Disasters, viewed 8 January 2015, <>.


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