Emergencies capture the public’s attention like few other events. One of your municipality’s most important responsibilities is the safety and security of your community. Whether it is a widespread power failure or spring flooding, emergencies and natural disasters call us all to action.

Ontario is experiencing more natural disasters and extreme weather events. As a result, the costs and economic impacts of natural disasters are increasing for people and governments at all levels. Evidence suggests that targeted investments to mitigate disaster risk and improve climate resilience can be cheaper and more effective than disaster recovery efforts after an incident.

Helping communities recover following natural disasters remains a priority for the province. At the same time, it is important that municipalities consider maintaining sufficient reserves and appropriate insurance coverage to manage the costs of disasters, within their capacity. It is also important to consider long-term planning tools, such as asset management plans, as infrastructure ages and is renewed, to support community resilience.

Risk management approach

Ontario’s approach to emergency management includes activities under five pillars: prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Prevention refers to the actions taken to prevent the emergency itself. One example of prevention is land use planning that keeps development away from high-risk areas like flood plains.

Mitigation refers to actions taken to reduce or eliminate the effects of an emergency. An example of mitigation is rebuilding a road with larger culverts to reduce the impact of extreme rainfall.

Preparedness refers to measures taken in advance of an emergency to ensure an effective response framework is in place. Having a municipal emergency response plan is a key element of preparedness.

Response refers to measures taken to respond to an emergency, such as actions by first responders or providing shelter to residents.

Recovery refers to actions taken to recover after an emergency or disaster. Recovery includes rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

While we cannot control the weather, municipalities can influence many risk factors. One element under a municipality’s direct control is maintenance of sufficient reserves to ensure that it is financially prepared for unexpected events. Another is a municipality’s emergency management program. Robust emergency management programs reduce your municipality’s risks and help to ensure that you are prepared to respond when an emergency happens.

Legislation and regulation

In Ontario, the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, along with other legislation, establishes the province’s framework for managing emergencies. Key provisions in the Act include:

  • the requirement that municipalities and provincial ministries develop and implement an emergency management program
  • the authority for the head of council of a municipality to declare an emergency in the municipality, and to make such orders as he or she considers necessary and are not contrary to law to implement the emergency response plan of the municipality
  • the authority for the Lieutenant-Governor in Council or the Premier of Ontario to declare that an emergency exists in any part of Ontario (subject to the criteria in the Act)

The Ministry of the Solicitor General has set the program standards for municipal emergency management programs in Ontario Regulation 380/04. Under the regulation, every municipality must maintain an:

  • emergency management program committee to advise on the development and implementation of the emergency management program
  • emergency control group to coordinate a municipality’s response in an emergency
  • emergency operations centre
  • emergency response plan

The regulation also requires each municipality to designate staff persons or a member of council to fulfill the roles of emergency management program coordinator and emergency information officer. Having designated and trained staff is critical to responding quickly to emergencies.

Roles and responsibilities

All Ontarians have a role to play in emergency management.

Individuals are responsible for the safety, preparedness and well-being of themselves and their families. At a minimum, everyone should be aware of the hazards that might affect them and be prepared to deal with these hazards.

Each municipality is required to develop and implement an emergency management program tailored to local needs and priority risks. In many cases, the response capability of the municipality (for example fire, police, emergency medical services, public works, etc.) is sufficient to deal with routine incidents.

The province maintains emergency management programs for specific hazards and risks, and delivers emergency services that complement programs implemented by communities.

Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) of the Ministry of the Solicitor General as the overall provincial emergency management coordinator, is responsible for the promotion, development, implementation and maintenance of effective emergency management programs throughout Ontario.

EMO is the primary emergency response contact for municipalities requesting provincial support. Field Officers are stationed throughout Ontario and are ready to provide advice and assistance to communities as required. EMO also maintains the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) on a 24/7 basis. Any municipality that requires help to respond to an emergency can call the PEOC at 416-314-0472 or 1-866-314-0472 at any time to request provincial assistance. Your municipal emergency management coordinator is your primary link to the PEOC and is an essential liaison to other organizations and stakeholders that may be needed to support an emergency response.

The federal government may provide assistance to the provincial government when requested.

Disaster financial assistance

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing administers the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians (DRAO) and Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance (MDRA) programs that provide financial assistance following sudden, unexpected natural disasters:

  • Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians helps eligible individuals, small owner-operated businesses, farms and not-for-profit organizations cover emergency expenses and repair or replace essential property following a natural disaster.
  • Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance reimburses eligible municipalities for extraordinary costs associated with emergency response and repairs to essential property and infrastructure following a natural disaster.

The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the authority to activate the DRAO and MDRA programs. An emergency declaration under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act is not required for either program to be activated.

In order to be eligible for the MDRA program, a municipality must have:

  • experienced a sudden, unexpected and extraordinary natural disaster
  • incurred costs over and above regular budgets that can be demonstrably linked to the disaster. These costs must equal at least three per cent of the municipality’s Own Purpose Taxation levy
  • passed a resolution of council and submitted an initial claim (with supporting documentation) within 120 calendar days of the date of the onset of the disaster

It is important that a municipality submitting a claim for MDRA assistance carefully read and review the program guidelines and claim form user guide at the onset of the disaster. Consider ways for tracking costs and gathering information about damage as part of your municipality’s emergency planning. Additional information is also available from your regional Municipal Services Office.

Helpful considerations: section 13

  • We all have a role to play in emergency management.
  • Your municipality is responsible for the annual compliance of its emergency management program with the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
  • Consider using a risk management approach for your municipality’s emergency management program and disaster mitigation measures.
  • Consider maintaining reserves to ensure your municipality is financially prepared to manage unexpected events.
  • The Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians and Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance programs may be activated if a disaster occurs in your municipality.