Government Operations Centre and Request for Federal Assistance
The Emergency Management Act (2007) gives the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness responsibility for coordinating the Government of Canada’s response to an emergency. The Federal Emergency Response Plan (FERP), approved by Cabinet in 2011, identifies Public Safety as the federal coordinating department. Public Safety’s Government Operations Centre (GOC) provides definitive national-level awareness of events and serves as the coordination centre for the federal response to events of national interest. When the GOC is informed of an event of national significance, the Director General of the GOC ensures senior leadership situational awareness. Significant events may be beyond the capacity of the Province or Territory (P/T) to respond. In these circumstances, federal assistance may be sought through a Request for Federal Assistance (RFA).
Emergencies are first managed at the municipal level before escalating to the provincial or territorial level. In turn, when a P/T has exhausted their resources to prepare for or respond to a situation, the Provincial/Territorial Minister responsible for the public safety portfolio will request federal support through an RFA addressed to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. RFAs can be limited in scope and fairly straightforward with specific or limited resource requirements. RFAs can also be complex and require significant and sustained responses that are expensive and demanding of resources.
When there is clear consensus on a routine or straightforward request, the GOC will make a recommendation directly to the Minister’s Office. When an RFA is broader or more sensitive, the GOC will inform Public Safety Deputy Ministers and the Assistant Deputy Minister of Emergency Management and Programs Branch to ensure organizational awareness and strategic recommendations are provided to the Minister.
RFAs are often for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) military assistance. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness will endorse the RFA and forward it to the Minister of National Defence. The National Defence Act gives the Minister of National Defence the authority to provide CAF assistance if the request is related to an emergency for the purpose of public service.
The RFA letter from the P/T is normally submitted to the Public Safety Regional Office in the affected P/T and then forwarded to the GOC by email. A Provincial/Territorial Minister can also seek federal assistance by contacting the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness directly.
The GOC will conduct an assessment of the request to determine if the assistance can be provided by other federal departments or the private sector. If the GOC determines that there are no other available options, they will consult with senior CAF officials to verify if they can support the RFA.
The Director General of the GOC will then provide a recommendation to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (via email with the Minister’s staff) to endorse the RFA. Should the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness endorse the request, a recommendation is made directly between Ministers’ offices to the Minister of National Defence to approve the RFA. Once the RFA is approved, the staff of the Minister will confirm approval by email to the Director General of the GOC, who will then inform the Province accordingly through the Public Safety Regional Office.
There may also be special circumstances where the CAF is requested to provide support to law enforcement (e.g. aerial support to locate two suspects in Gillam Manitoba in summer 2019). Requests of this nature will be forwarded to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness by the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Once the CAF support is no longer required to respond to the event, the GOC will submit a formal RFA termination package to the Minister. This step ensures that all approval authorities are properly documented.
Normally the GOC is informed in advance within a few hours, or a few days, that a formal RFA is forthcoming. As common practice, the Director General of the GOC will provide a heads-up email to the Minister’s staff explaining the situation and the rationale for the potential RFA. If a provincial Minister submits a RFA directly to the Minister bypassing the Public Safety Regional Office or the GOC, the Minister’s staff is encouraged to consult with the Director General of the GOC to ensure proper consideration is given to the request. Some RFAs also require consultations with Department of Justice legal counsel.
The GOC is available to provide an in-depth presentation on the RFA process and a tour of the GOC operations centre.
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