Mark Collins – Canadian Government’s Crisis Ops Centre Sucks

No other way to put it, note main software UNCLASS only. The previous Conservative money wouldn’t put needed money into a core federal responsibility; will the current Liberal one?

Government crisis response centre outdated, inefficient and understaffed, audit warns
Facilities housing federal nerve centre deemed to be ‘inadequate’ and unable to handle multiple events at once

The federal government’s crisis response centre is outdated, understaffed and “inadequate” for co-ordinating emergency situations such as national security threats or natural disasters, a new audit warns.

In 2015, the Government Operations Centre (GOC [webpage here]) was called on to triage more then 5,000 incidents. Of those, more than 500 were deemed to be of national interest, requiring a risk assessment, planning and co-ordinated response, making it a vital nerve centre.

But a Public Safety Canada audit found persistent problems — even after a 2010 review revealed “widespread confusion and uncertainty” about the operation centre’s mandate and its ability to fulfil its role.

The latest audit assessed the policies, processes, controls and protocols the GOC uses to respond to and manage emergency events ranging from flooding and industrial accidents to acts of terrorism and cyber events. It was completed in October 2016 and recently published online.

Nerve centre relied on dubious reports
Government ops centre lacked staff, tech help
Crisis centre communications on day of Ottawa shooting

People interviewed for the audit identified challenges with communications, outdated technology and the ability to staff up quickly, the so-called “surge capacity” required to respond to emergencies.

But the interviewees cited the current physical infrastructure — the building, its fixtures, equipment and utilities systems — as posing the greatest risk.

‘Inadequate’ facilities, operational risks

Despite a long-identified need and business case for a new location, the review found the Government Operations Centre remains in facilities “that have been deemed to be inadequate.”

“From an operational perspective, the principal risk to the operation centre’s ability to fulfil its mandate is that current infrastructure would likely be unable to support the concurrent management of two or more events,” the report warns.

The audit found outdated technology is hampering work, including the main software system. While it’s intended to help share incident data and information among federal, provincial and territorial operations centres, it is certified only to manage unclassified information [emphasis added]…

Floods, earthquakes, industrial disasters

Under the Emergency Management Act, the minister of public safety takes the lead for emergency management — developing contingency plans for floods, earthquakes and industrial disasters, as well as co-ordinating various departments and providing personnel, goods and transportation for regions affected by an emergency [text from Act here].

Documents obtained by the CBC’s Dean Beeby earlier this year through Access to Information reveal a full cost estimate for constructing a new facility was completed in 2005 by Public Works and Government Services Canada, and updated again in 2009.

Information about which options the department evaluated were redacted.
The documents said the GOC serves as the “all-hazards national warning point” for the Government of Canada and led the response to the 2015 Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games, the 2015 fires in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the 2014 Ottawa shooting and the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.

One undated document, stamped “Secret, Advice to the Minister,” issues a warning about the current facility’s ability to do the job.

‘Major corporate risk’

“Over the past four years, the Government Operations Centre’s facility has been identified as a “major corporate risk for Public Safety and poses a risk to the centre’s ability to deliver on its mandate,” it reads.

Management agreed with the latest audit’s findings, and laid out an action plan to improve operational performance, setting target dates for completion in 2017 and 2018. It is not clear if there is a specific plan to relocate.

Public Safety Canada spokesman Kevin Miller said the government is working to improve operations, but did not provide details…

Working how hard? How fast? What funding?

Then there is the troubled Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre, also in Public Safety Canada.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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