City audit critical of Edmonton's ability to manage emergencies or disasters

A city audit of the Edmonton’s emergency management program suggests the department is ill-prepared to govern in the event of disasters like floods, fires or forced evacuation. 

The risk assessment audit found gaps in the way Edmonton plans to handle a major emergency.

Key strategic plans for emergency management are lacking, protocol documents for handling disasters are out of date and the roles and responsibilities of program staff are poorly defined, the audit found.

The gaps in governance could encumber the city’s ability to react, manage and recover when disaster strikes, it said. 

“The current governance documents are outdated and do not align with best practice,” reads the report, which is being tabled Thursday at the city’s audit committee meeting.

“If updates to planned actions, learnings from incidents and exercises are not formally recorded and incorporated into the plan, then the actual plan for the city is not adequately documented.”

The audit, which took place between September 2018 and February 2019, identified four issues:

  • The city has no formal strategic plan to direct its emergency management program.
  • Edmonton lacks a “hazard identification and risk assessment system,” to predict disasters most likely to strike.
  • The municipal emergency plan is from 2004 and has not been updated, while the Emergency Management Bylaw was last updated in 2012.
  • There is a lack of clarity around the roles and responsibilities of emergency management staff in the event of a disaster.

The lack of clarity around process and protocols could cause “confusion and miscommunication during an actual incident,” the report warned.

‘Pretty critical’

The report looked only at the emergency management program and did not examine program operations, which include the Emergency Support Response Team and the Emergency Operations Centre or actual responses to previous emergencies or disasters.

Coun. Andrew Knack said in a disaster, the department has increased power to manage city operations and the department needs to be ready for that.  

“We are starting to see more situations across the province where more emergencies are coming up and to have something like that, to truly make sure we have thought through where we’re seeing increasing risk,” Knack said Thursday in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. 

“I think it’s pretty critical.”

City administrators, who have been working with the department for years to identify potential shortfalls in protocol, has already accepted the recommendations of the auditor’s report and is working to implement them, Knack said.

“Had you asked me about this three years ago, I would have probably been in a much more concerned position because I don’t think we had been talking about it,” he said.

“This just reinforces what’s been happening over the last few years to get everything up to speed to where it needs to be.”

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