Mark Collins – Public Safety Canada’s Emergency Management May Suck

Just read between the bureaucratese at this report, damning stuff. The previous Conservative government cared little for this core federal responsibility; what about the new one? Not a sunny subject. From a January 2016 Public Safety Canada departmental audit:

Internal Audit of Emergency Management Planning: Leadership and Oversight

Executive Summary

Background

Under Section 3 of the Emergency Management Act (EMA [text here]), the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is responsible for providing government-wide leadership and oversight over the emergency management (EM) activities of federal institutions – including their emergency management plans, which include the following instruments:

– Strategic emergency management plans;
– Business continuity plans; and,
– Event-specific contingency plans.

Specifically, the Department is expected to:

– Promote a common approach to EM, including EM planning;
– Establish policies, programs, measures & advice for preparation, maintenance & testing of EM plans;
– Analyze and evaluate plans of federal institutions; and,
– Conduct exercises & provide education & training.

Public Safety Canada exercises its leadership and oversight role in this area through the Emergency Management and Regional Operations Branch (EM&RO [organizational and personnel details here, webpage here]). The Branch has been in existence since 2011 and has, since this time, undergone many changes to its structure, priorities and leadership [emphasis added]. The Branch operates in a complex environment characterized by multiple inter-dependencies, numerous stakeholders with competing priorities and, as noted, change.

EM&RO delivers its mandate through a range of specific programs, implemented by its directorates, which collectively are responsible for policy, planning, program development and regional service delivery. These programs are enabled by a management regime that supports the planning and allocation of resources and the oversight of performance. Collectively, this regime is referred to as a management control framework.

Audit Objective

The audit objective was to provide reasonable assurance that the core management controls in place across EM&RO Branch are adequate and effective to:

– support robust management and decision-making, in compliance with policy and legislation; and,
– fulfill the department’s roles in relation to EM planning leadership and oversight of federal institutions, in accordance with the EMA.

Summary of Findings

The point of departure for this audit was an examination of the EM&RO management control framework, which collectively provides a foundation for good management, program integrity and results. The audit noted positive efforts to strengthen governance through the establishment of formal management committees and through the introduction of strategic planning. While positive, the audit also noted that more deliberate and cohesive policy dialogue on the tenets and principles of EM as well as the roles and focus of EM&RO is needed to focus the directions of the Branch [emphasis added].

This, coupled with needed improvements to the planning and performance management regime of the Branch will lay a stronger foundation for priority-setting and targeted resource allocation, which were also concerns.

Specifically, the audit found that resource allocation processes are not sufficiently informed by priorities, expected results, risk and past performance. Efforts to enhance these mechanisms will have positive impacts, particularly given the current fiscal challenges being faced by the Branch. Finally, the audit noted that stronger leadership, including communication and management unity is needed to support the improvements in the formal controls.

The second major line of enquiry of this audit related to the adequacy and effectiveness of the practices that Public Safety Canada has in place to lead federal institutions in the discipline of EM Planning, as well as the mechanisms they have to oversee institutional activities and results, in accordance with Section 3 of the EMA.

Public Safety Canada’s leadership role is effected through the provision of guidance and through the establishment and management of fora for discussion and engagement with federal institutions. The audit found that guidance is provided to institutions in line with the EMA and Federal Policy on Emergency Management; however, opportunity exists to streamline and consolidate guidance, to enhance clarity and reduce unnecessary complexity. The audit also noted that government-wide structures are indeed in place, but, by most accounts, are in need of improvement – both from an efficiency and effectiveness perspective. These structures exist and provide a mechanism for information sharing from Public Safety Canada to federal institutions. However, in their current form and use, there is not a sufficient forum for substantive, government-wide engagement, direction-setting or signals-checking for matters related to EM Planning [emphasis added].

The Department exercises its oversight role through a variety of monitoring activities, including the assessment of institutional Business Continuity Plans, Strategic Emergency Management Plans and through National Exercises of selected contingency plans. The audit found that the monitoring of federal institutions’ EM planning is done in a fragmented and, in some cases, insufficient fashion [emphasis added]. Opportunities exist to strengthen the monitoring mechanisms by reinstating the assessment of business continuity plans, enhancing the robustness of methodologies, and examining opportunities for more streamlined and internally cohesive approaches.

In examining the national exercise program, the audit found that the national exercise calendar is developed, but concluded that the process for its development is not robust enough to ensure all necessary inputs are considered, particularly threat information [emphasis added]. As well, we identified opportunities to strengthen internal and external coordination and dialogue around the calendar’s development.

In light of the noted weaknesses in the monitoring of federal institutions, we are concerned that the Department does not have sufficient or effective mechanisms to appropriately gauge the readiness of federal institutions in the face of emergencies. As well, lack of monitoring limits the Department’s ability to gain insight into the strengths and challenges within federal institutions which itself should inform Public Safety Canada’s directions, policy and guidance [emphasis added].

Audit Opinion

In my opinion, the governance, risk management and controls in this area of departmental activity are not yet in a sufficient enough state of maturity to provide reasonable assurance that the objectives of Public Safety Canada will be achieved [emphasis added]. Opportunity exists to build on existing practices, some of which are already being enhanced, and to strengthen the adequacy (design) and effectiveness of internal controls…

Feel confident in the feds if a balloon really goes up? I had some experience with emergency preparedness and management with the Canadian Coast Guard; my confidence in things today is minimal. The country needs a single, dedicated, emergency agency, not a part (whose personnel are public servants coming in and out as they try to climb the greasy pole) of a department with many other difficult–and sexier (terrorism!)–responsibilities.

The feds, when I was on that job, once had such agency (scroll down here to “CANADIAN INITIATIVES”, cf. on a much smaller scale the US FEMA). But, for reasons I have never understood, our Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness was abolished soon after having been transferred (p. 3 PDF) to Public Safety Canada from National Defence in 2003. Its functions were then assumed within and as part of the broader bureaucracy. Not a good recipe for focus and success.

The government at the top of the Canadian food chain does not like thinking about, nor planning and paying for, emergency preparedness and response (hey, no Katrina here just that pesky 1998 central Canadian ice storm–where are the votes, eh?). So how much long-term dedication developing subject expertise might one expect from those greasy pole-climbing bureaucrats now on the, er, emergency job?

Related and very relevant at Public Safety Canada:

Canadian Government’s Crisis Ops Centre Sucks

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

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