The future of disaster and emergency management

by Larry Pearce, CRHNET Executive Director

What is the future of DEM in Canada? I was asked at the last minute to address this question recently during the 7th CRHNet symposium held in Fredericton NB 27-29th October 2010. In reflection, I have put together some other thoughts on the issue.

I believe that both the position of DEM and BCM within government and businesses throughout Canada have become essential and their evolving importance does, and will, matter greatly in determining the shape and direction of our society.

There are a number of reasons why this is so. First of all, there has been, in the last three decades, an increase in number of natural disasters within Canada. The impact of these events on communities and businesses has escalated in terms of property loses, insurance costs, health related costs and social upheaval (i.e., the impact on work forces, hours lost and reduced productivity including the disruption of the social fabric of our society). This is due in a large part to what I call the “urbanization of Canada.” This factor has directly increased the vulnerability of cities, towns, villages and businesses as more and more people migrate to the urban centres.

Further, climate change phenomena have also led to increases in storms, water surges, forest fires, floods, landslides and other weather related events. Once again, we see more people in the way of disasters. As well, as just the numbers of events and affected populations increase we see fewer dollars available to leaders to ensure the continuity of government, businesses and communities.

Where do we place DEM/BCM in the scheme of things given the need and desire to create disaster resilient communities and businesses? How important are they?

DEM/BCM is characterized by the “five pillars” of Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation. All of these pillars are needed to create a disaster resistant and resilient community. The significance of this, when considered in the context of a business model, is far-reaching. When one considers the need to plan for, coordinate and execute the many and varied actions required to move forward in reaching a robust disaster risk reduced and resilient community or business, it underscores the necessity to have highly qualified personnel working in concert with all the stakeholders and members of the organization.

There is no longer room for the idea, or luxury, of assigning DEM to someone as a secondary duty (off one’s corner of the desk) which in the past was done too often. For example, many smaller communities will inevitably assign DEM to their fire chief in the misbelief that the significance of DEM is minor and not important enough to allocate the required resources even though analyses have shown that these critical duties require a serious commitment. Not to allocate sufficient resources is short-sighted and unfair to those who are trying to prepare their community response to the disaster and are fully committed in prosecuting their duties for the protection and safety of their respective communities or businesses.

In today’s technologically high risk world, which is ever changing, there is no longer room for double-hatting. To paraphrase John Maynard Keyes, “ideas matter greatly in determining the shape and direction of organizations and indeed the world is ruled by little else.” In fairness, small communities and organizations have to struggle with how to manage their resources but they must change their ideas and resist assigning DEM/BCM a low priority, as it is a decision fraught with danger.

What does this mean for the DEM/BCM profession? How can senior executives realign their views and ideas to grasp the significance, the importance, the value and need to have highly educated and trained personnel manage, coordinate and prepare their organizations to deal with the risks and vulnerabilities that face businesses, industry and communities in the ever increasing disaster affected world?

What sort of person fills the bill that senior executives and officials are searching for?

Clearly the DEM and the Business Continuity sectors require highly skilled, educated and highly trained professionals to grapple with the many and varied complexities faced in disaster risk reduction and to work hand in hand with other professionals within their organizations. Leadership, education and training then become of paramount importance.

Many institutions of higher learning are now offering post-secondary and post graduate degrees in DEM and related skill sets. For example York University, Royal Roads University, Brandon University and the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) have become leaders in education in the emerging field of DEM. Other institutions such as Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), JIBC and other colleges provide certificate and diploma courses in all aspects of DEM. As well, DRI CANADA offers education and certification for BCM professionals and leads the nation in providing BCM training.

Many of the provinces and territories offer training to, and for, their staff as do many federal departments and agencies. Courses in public administration, business administration, planning, land use, policy and leadership are also offered at the graduate and post graduate level and are germane to the DEM/BCM profession.

The future for the DEM/BCM professionals is bright and opportunities are expanding. As we continue to recover from the economic woes of the past two years (aka as the recession) as Canada grows, industry expands to meet the demand for goods and services, and as the risks and vulnerabilities increase there are, and will be, a growing demand for educated well trained leaders in the these professions.