The Government of Canada provides science and technology support and services to help the Emergency Response Community make Canada a safer place in which to live
By Katherine Cornick, BA Candidate, University of Ottawa
A flood devastates a Canadian community, wiping out streets and forcing its residents to evacuate; a suspect forcibly takes a hostage during a robbery; a building collapses, trapping a family in its wreckage. All these situations have one thing in common – the first person called to the scene is an emergency responder. When a helping hand is needed, Canadian emergency responders must have access to the best tools and technology to deal with these situations.
A GROWING NEED FOR SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
In a challenging national safety and security world, technological advancements are vital to the success of an emergency response. Time and time again, incidents have demonstrated the important role of science and technology (S&T) in planning and coordination. It is estimated that the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti killed more than 200,000 people. During the crisis, Short Message Service (SMS) broadcasting and a crisis mapping platform were used to map help requests from survivors, from retrieving water to urgently needed medical attention. With so many response units and volunteers from all over the world helping with relief efforts, this information-sharing technology was fundamental to direct emergency services.
In our own nation, a Canadian summer’s hot weather and dry forests are a dangerous combination for triggering a forest fire. As a result, computerized maps and monitoring stations have been developed to gather and transmit information about forest conditions which has helped emergency responders predict, control, and respond to these fires as soon as possible.
Countless incidents like these remind us that no part of the world is immune to the impact of natural or accidental disasters. It also reminds us that access to, and effective use of, science and technology solutions can have a profound impacts on how we deal with these events.
A PROGRAM BASED ON IMPACT
To help protect Canadians and the responders who rush in when disaster strikes, the Government of Canada is supporting the development of S&T solutions to help anticipate and prevent incidents that threaten Canada’s public safety and security, to prepare and respond to these incidents when they happen and, ultimately, to recover from their aftermath. The Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), which is led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS), in partnership with Public Safety Canada brings together emergency responders, planners, policy writers, and S&T specialists to address a full spectrum of hazards. Their collaboration can lead to the development of new knowledge and tools, and provide important advice that contributes to the overall resilience of Canadian communities.
The CSSP is also making significant investments to develop DRDC’s testing and evaluation capabilities through the Emergency Responder Test and Evaluation Establishment in Regina. This facility is responsible for carrying out the majority of CSSP’s testing and evaluation activities, looking at current every day technologies, including looking at associated standards, processes and methodologies that emergency responders use, as well as what could be implemented in the future.
HELPING EMERGENCY RESPONDERS
Unlike most professions, emergency responders cannot rely on ‘on-the-job’ training when it comes to some of the dangerous aspects of their work. Therefore, to develop more efficient and coordinated responses, it is crucial that they are provided with opportunities to participate in controlled real-world scenarios that would otherwise put them in harm’s way. Exercises led or facilitated by DRDC CSS through the CSSP help responders familiarize themselves with procedures, roles and responsibilities, and allow them to analyze emergency plans and coordinate interoperability. Even more critical, they can practice specialized skills and even test procedures, tools, and communications in a simulated environment in real-time. How else would they get the chance to assess their capabilities for dealing with explosions, handling chemical and biological threats, or a radiological contamination in a risk-free environment?
For example, the CSSP recently partnered with responders to deliver a post-blast exercise. This created an opportunity for scientific, technical and operational analysis and discussion through a progressive series of demonstrated controlled explosions. Not only did this exercise help to validate the training standards for multiple first responder groups within Canada, it provided the community with important procedural information, and enhanced the capacity of first responders to work with other experts.
This initiative was also used to provide first responders and industrial players an orientation to forensic investigations of explosive devices, and the chance to gather for bomb blast data acquisition. The knowledge gained from the exercise provided valuable feedback which helped to identify training gaps, shortfalls and recommendations that can be used to update Emergency Operation Procedures and Emergency Plans.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
Science and technology alone cannot guarantee safety and security, but without it, safety and security is impossible. The collaboration between DRDC, its S&T partners from government, industry and academia, combined with the emergency practitioner communities, is essential to ensure a greater understanding of what responders are dealing with on the ground so that S&T developments are truly addressing their needs. Working together, they contribute to greater global and domestic public safety and security resiliency for Canadians and their institutions.
Katherine Cornick is a Communications student working at the Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science. This summer, she will be graduating from the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor of Arts Specialization in Communication. She will be returning to school in September 2014 at Carleton University where she will be starting her Masters of Journalism.