Parliamentary Committee Notes: Emergency Management in Canada


April 20, 2022



Proposed Response:

Emergency Management Overview

RFA Process

FPT Governance

Emergency Management Framework

EM Strategy

Emergency Preparedness

The Role of the Federal Government During Emergencies

Emergency Management Act

Public Safety Canada’s Role in Managing Emergencies

Role of the Government Operations Centre

Federal Emergency Response Plan (FERP)

If pressed …

Emergencies with National Security Implications

International Emergencies

Nuclear Emergencies

Recovery from Disasters


In Canada, emergency management (EM) adopts an all-hazards approach to address both natural and human-induced hazards and disasters. These are increasing in both number and frequency across the world, resulting in ever growing human suffering and economic cost. Canada is not immune to these events, and the risk environment continues to evolve as the country faces growing impacts of climate change and faces uncertainties caused by international events which impact the global security landscape.

EM Governance

The Canadian EM system adheres to a bottom-up, decentralized model of governance, whereby responsibilities over mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery are distributed among Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) governments. The core functions of EM (e.g. legislation, planning, operations, policymaking) are therefore delivered by an interdependent network of F/P/T departments/agencies, each operating in their respective jurisdictions.
The Government of Canada plays a crucial role in helping Canadians and their communities protect themselves from emergencies and disasters related to all kinds of hazards – natural, human-induced, and technological. When an emergency overwhelms the response capacity of the P/Ts, affects multiple areas of authority, and/or involves federal assets or national interests, the federal government is expected to intervene and coordinate the delivery of essential assistance. There is a well-established process to address requests from assistance that may come from PT governments.

FPT Collaboration

Since 2007, Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) collaboration in EM has been guided by an Emergency Management Framework for Canada (EM Framework), which was last updated in 2017. The EM Framework describes the sharing of EM responsibilities among FPT governments themselves, as well as with their respective EM partners (including but not limited to: Indigenous peoples, municipalities, communities, volunteer and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, critical infrastructure owners and operators, academia, and volunteers).

Guided by the EM Framework (2017) and in collaboration with provinces and territories, PS led the publication of the Emergency Management Strategy for Canada: Toward a Resilient 2030 (EM Strategy)in 2019. The EM Strategy seeks to align the efforts of all Canadians, as well as to strengthen overall resilience through five priority areas of activity. These priority areas of activity were approved by FPT Ministers responsible for EM and are:

  1. Enhance whole-of-society collaboration and governance to strengthen resilience;
  2. Improve understanding of disaster risks in all sectors of society;
  3. Increase focus on whole-of-society disaster prevention and mitigation activities;
  4. Enhance disaster response capacity and coordination and foster the development of new capabilities; and,
  5. Strengthen recovery efforts by building back better to minimize the impacts of future disasters.

After approving the EM Strategy, FPT Ministers Responsible for Emergency Management directed the Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management (SOREM) to develop and advance a series of Action Plans to advance the implementation of the Strategy. SOREM represents the collection of FPT government organizations who lead emergency management efforts on behalf of their respective jurisdiction.  The 2021-22 FPT Interim Action Plan was released in March 2022, and builds off of the momentum created by the Strategy and details shared priorities and activities across all four pillars of emergency management: prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Federal Roles

Emergency management is a core responsibility of the Government of Canada and a collective responsibility of all government institutions.

Pursuant to the Emergency Management Act, PS has the legislative mandate to build a safe and resilient Canada by providing national leadership in EM in the development and implementation of policies, plans and a range of programs. The Department houses the Government Operations Center (GOC), which works to provides an integrated federal emergency response to all-hazards events (potential or actual, natural or human-induced, accidental or intentional) of national interest.

Despite being situated within PS, the GOC operates on behalf of the Government of Canada and is an asset for the entire federal government. The GOC supports in coordinating the federal response to provincial or territorial requests for assistance (RFAs) to address local or regional emergencies and provides 24/7 monitoring and reporting, national-level situational awareness, warning products and integrated risk assessments, as well as national-level planning and whole-of-government response management. The GOC has established an RFA Secretariat to receive, evaluate, and prioritize all RFAs. The GOC convenes consultation with implicated departments to review RFAs, as required.

When the emergency involves a First Nation (FN) community, FN leadership, depending on relevant emergency management agreements, will work in collaboration with their PTs and/or Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) or regional officials, to assess the emergency and propose a response.

Federal Response Management

Pursuant to the Emergency Management Act, all federal ministers are responsible for developing EM plans in relation to risks in their areas of accountability. All departments/agencies work within their own scopes, fostering the skills and expertise necessary to fulfill their mandates to the public. In the event of an emergency, these capabilities may be redeployed to assist in response and recovery.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is responsible for coordinating emergency management activities among government institutions and in cooperation with the provinces and other entities and is supported by the GOC who directs their mobilization, as described by the Federal Emergency Response Plan (FERP).

The FERP is the Government of Canada’s all-hazards response coordination plan, and is implemented when the scope, scale or importance of an emergency event requires an integrated federal government response. It addresses domestic emergencies and international emergencies with a domestic impact and is limited to near-term response preparedness; immediate response efforts; and early recovery arrangements.

The FERP defines the approach, processes and requirements for coordination of an all-hazards federal event response. Other federal response plans are in place to address specific requirements related to national security, international events, pandemics and related large-scale events with potential major impact.  For example, the Government of Canada has the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan (FNEP), which is an annex of the FERP. The FNEP brings together experts from across the federal government to help deal with any type of nuclear emergency. It is led by the Minister of Health. These types of plans refer to the FERP as required to support coordination of event activities as required.

In most cases, federal government institutions manage emergencies with event-specific or departmental plans based on their own authorities and capabilities. While federal government institutions may implement these plans during an emergency, they must also implement the processes outlined in the FERP in order to coordinate with the broader Federal Government’s emergency response. The scope of an emergency will determine the role of federal government institutions.

Emergency Support Functions

Emergency Support Functions provide the mechanisms for grouping certain functions. Specifically, these are the functions most frequently used in providing federal support to PTs or assistance from one federal government institution to another during an emergency.

Emergency Support Functions are allocated to government institutions in a manner consistent with their mandate (see Annex A for the list of functions). They include policies and legislation, planning assumptions and concept(s) of operations to augment and support primary departmental programs, arrangements or other measures to assist provincial governments and local authorities, or to support the GOC in order to coordinate the Government of Canada’s response to an emergency.

One or more Emergency Support Functions may need to be implemented, depending on the nature or scope of the emergency.

Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan

In non-emergency situations, the FNEP is maintained at a routine preparedness level, including standard monitoring and other preparedness functions. 

The FNEP describes three levels of heightened response, ranging from enhanced monitoring activities through to a full-scale technical response. Levels 1 through 3 are consistent with the response levels under the FERP.

In most cases, the response levels of the FNEP and FERP will be identical during a nuclear emergency.  However, subject to the specific circumstances of the emergency, the trigger to raise the response level of the FNEP and establish the FNEP technical assessment group may be made prior to, concurrently with or following decisions of the FERP response level (for example, in the case of concurrent emergencies, emergencies abroad, or situations that have started as a non-nuclear emergency).

As with the FERP, the FNEP response level will be assigned based on factors such as the nature, magnitude, progression and location of the event, the actual or potential impacts on Canadians, and the need for broader operations. FNEP response levels will be established by Health Canada in response to triggers and in consultation with PS/GOC and other relevant authorities.

Annex A

Emergency Support Functions
Primary Depts (Response Leads) Emergency Support Function #
TC Transportation ESF 1
ISED Tele-communications ESF 2
AAFC/CFIA Agriculture and Agri-Food ESF 3
NRCAN Energy Production and Distribution ESF 4
HC/PHAC Public Health and Essential Human Services ESF 5
ECCC Environment ESF 6
ESDC Human and Social Services ESF 7
RCMP Law Enforcement ESF 8
GAC International Coordination ESF 9
PSPC Government Services ESF 10
Public Safety Logistics Operations Management ESF 11
Public Safety Communications ESF 12
CBSA Border Services ESF 13
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