Canada must look at emergency management through a “pandemic lens” and ensure more “proactive and efficient” emergency response across jurisdictions as the country copes with more frequent, severe natural hazards, Public Safety Canada (PSC) concludes in its first-ever national risk assessment released last week.
“There remain alignment gaps between different jurisdictions in terms of emergency management approaches and programming,” the department states in a 178-page report that contains 291 references to climate and 69 to adaptation. “There is also room to further integrate climate change adaptation into emergency management as well as address information sharing gaps between the health and emergency management systems.”
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The report stresses the importance of disaster recovery and resilience, and empowering Canadians to prepare for future disasters. “We know that disasters and climate change are having significant mental health impacts for Canadians, but there is a need for better data on these broad psychosocial consequences,” it states. “Low levels of insurance uptake in high-risk earthquake and flood areas as well as inadequate risk reduction measures—such as retrofit programs and natural infrastructure solutions—were also identified as important gaps.”
The report centres on three types of natural disasters: earthquakes, wildland fires, and floods.
“The impacts of climate change are causing longer and more intense fire seasons, with costs to the economy in the billions,” PSC writes. “There remain gaps in public awareness of wildland fires as well as in our ability to respond to wildland fires at the national level,” including “inadequate inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in wildland fire management and response.”
The report identifies flooding as Canada’s “most costly and frequent hazard, causing economic, social and environmental burdens for the whole of society.” It opines that climate change “is likely to increase the frequency and severity of flooding in many areas of Canada, which will further exacerbate its impacts.” It warns of “gaps in coordination” across orders of government in the effort to address flood risk, as well as a “patchwork of flood data and information available to help mitigate flood risk”.
A “pandemic lens” for natural disasters would get at the interactions and crossover impacts between public health emergencies and other disasters, the report says. It points to the “deeply entrenched health, social, and economic inequities” brought to light by the pandemic, the “decreased operational capacity” for emergency response during the pandemic, and the need for partnerships across governments to build better resilience.
An essential goal for emergency management is to make sure “no Canadian is left behind” in a natural disaster, PSC says. That means special attention to the heightened risk faced by Indigenous communities, children, seniors, and people living with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions.