Editors’ Note – The First Wave – Fall/Winter 2021

A note from Lily Yumagulova: A couple of days prior to this issue’s launch, my 12-year-old son, Timur, was reading out loud at the dinner table about murmuration, a phenomenon where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping patterns. This constant motion in a quest for centrality gives the birds a fluid sense of safety. “To be safe on the inside, somebody must be on the outside: just like our safety in the pandemic, it depends on the essential workers on the outside.” – Timur Reynolds 

This pandemic has arguably brought a remarkable degree of “disaster literacy” to children and adults. Household preparedness, personal protective equipment, stockpiling, supply chain management are only some of the list of elements gaining growing awareness that are needed to build a resilient society. As the one-year mark of the global pandemic nears, it is an opportune time to step back, reflect, and take stock. While it is too early to know the full extent of the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians, there are many initial learnings that highlight what worked well, indicate areas of opportunity, and guide any immediate course corrections. But it is more than that. In putting this momentous issue together, we went on a trip through time, reliving each milestone and setback, tracing the highs and lows, and with that, gaining a new perspective on not only how much we have lost, but how much we have achieved. It has been a year for the history books, but in this issue we focus on the critical first few months of the pandemic: the first wave

As the pandemic escalated in the spring, the public became familiar with the dashboards built by Johns Hopkins University and World Health Organization; for some of us, these common operating pictures became a barometer for the state of the world. Online tools to support emergency response are not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the benefit of having access to such decision-making aids. In response, Natural Resources Canada and Statistics Canada jointly developed a socio-economic dashboard inclusive of hazard and vulnerability data to support real-time response and planning. Nearly one year later, user feedback has helped make it ready to be deployed as a bilingual platform. 

With global dashboards displaying the status of each country, the epidemiologic curve became our benchmark and ‘bend the curve’ our mantra. For a small number of countries, the case spike was invisible on the global scale; New Zealand being a case in point. Beyond the standard public health measures—including border-related controls, quarantine facilities, testing, contact tracing systems, and lockdowns—another reason stood out for the island nation’s success in halting the pandemic: the leadership practices of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government. Read about a pandemic leadership model that offers transferable lessons for leaders

Given the magnitude and ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations began to envision what the “new normal” would look like. For the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, this meant pivoting to online delivery and transitioning student support and counselling services to a virtual environment. Read how NAIT managed to relaunch all programming in Fall 2020, witness widespread adoption of and compliance with on-campus health and safety measures, perform contact tracing and notification, and maintain agility in the face of challenge and change.

With over 56% of the global population and over 80% of Canadians living in cities, the pandemic made us rethink the nature of urban resilience. From opportunities for diversifying the economic structure of cities to enhancing green spaces and bolstering public transportation, read about ten major lessons that this pandemic can provide for urban resilience to adopt in post-pandemic urban planning and management.

As a society, we came together to try to protect the most vulnerable populations who are at increased risk of developing severe illness or complications from COVID-19: we stayed home, we wore masks, and we prioritized resources for health services. However, the pandemic also revealed that some communities are left behind during public health emergencies. Learn how the Vancouver Emergency Operations Centre created an Ethnocultural Communities Branch to support the communities hit hardest by COVID-19, including low-wage essential workers, seniors facing food insecurity, renters in substandard housing, and people who depend on social services or public transit – often people from racialized and ethnocultural communities. With acts of discrimination related to COVID-19 highlighting the structural racism underlying Canadian society, it is important to learn how social countermeasures can be used to combat misinformation, stigma, and fear associated with COVID-19

This year had many people asking, ‘How can I better plan for uncertainty?’ Emergency managers know that with every threat, there is an opportunity to reduce the likelihood and consequence of the next emergency for individuals, communities, organizations, and the environment. Fortunately, there are growing resources to manage events with high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, captured in the eight emergency planning principles from Australia’s new emergency planning handbook.

Within this issue, we also celebrate women in leadership positions. In Canada, Michelle Vandevord (Day Star Woman), a volunteer firefighter of 21 years at the Muskoday First Nation, Saskatchewan, was voted the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada’s first female President. Read Michelle’s advice for the next generation of girls and women who want to join the fire services. 

In a year of disconnect and distance, CRHNet’s Emerging Professionals sub-committee aims to connect, empower, and represent the interests of young/emerging academics and professionals all over Canada whose interests are related to risks, hazards, and resilience. We also recently had the pleasure of announcing the 2020 CRHNet award winners at CRHNet’s annual general meeting. We went straight to the source to learn why these wonderful individuals were chosen – hear what their referees and nominators have to say! 

In January 2021, the tight-knit emergency management community in North America lost two remarkable leaders with the passing of Larry Pearce, who left us after a lifetime of service to Canada and Canadians, and Professor Dennis Mileti, a luminary in the field of hazards and disaster research, who passed from COVID-19 complications. In this issue, we celebrate Larry’s life and legacy (which includes the Canadian Research and Hazards Network (CRHNet), the CRHNet Symposium, and HazNet, three uniquely Canadian resources for the emergency management community) in an article by a longtime friend and colleague, Ernie Macgillivray. We celebrate Professor Mileti’s legacy by revisiting his interview with HazNet on effective risk communication

As our focus shifts to vaccination and building back better, the impacts of the global pandemic will remain far-reaching and continue to be felt for a long time to come. As a way to celebrate the resilience of professionals from different regions, sectors, and fields, we curated a colouring book that offers inspirations, challenges, and honest introspections from the past year. Check out the wonderful collaboration of emergency management professionals and artists in our feature Incidental Colour. Keep your eyes out for a hard copy to practice your art skills in the coming year! 

Our next issue of HazNet will focus on the silver linings – the positive changes and pivots of this pandemic experience. We hope you will join us in telling Canada’s evolving story of risk and resilience. 




Nicole Spence and Lilia Yumagulova

Editors, HazNet