In an emergency or crisis, it is essential that the public and private sectors use and understand common terminology. Advisories, directives, information bulletins and messages intended for the public and emergency response personnel must be precise, clear and consistent. The following glossary of terms aims to promote effective and unambiguous communication.

This glossary covers a wide range of emergency management terminology. Readers should also consult other plans and guidelines for terminology that may not be found in this glossary.

Glossary of terms

Below is a glossary of important emergency management terms and definitions organized in alphabetical order.

Acceptable risk
The level of potential losses that a society or community considers acceptable given existing social, economic, political, cultural, technical and environmental conditions.
Decisions and actions taken to implement a plan, a procedure or to open an emergency operations centre.
After-action report (AAR)
A report that documents the performance of tasks related to an emergency, exercise or planned event and, where necessary, makes recommendations for improvements.
Alternate service delivery location
A secondary physical location (other than the primary workplace) from which to deliver critical programs and services and to implement program recovery procedures.
Formally accepted by a position in authority such as a minister, CEO or municipal head of council.
The evaluation and interpretation of available information to provide a basis for decision-making.
Authority having jurisdiction
The organization (political or private), office, or individual responsible for approving a plan, program, procedure or expenditure or having ownership of equipment, materials, or a facility.
Biological hazard
A virus, bacterium, micro organism, fungus, prion, biological toxin or micro toxin produced by organisms capable of negatively affecting humans, animals or plants.
Buffer zone
In a planning context this zone is intended to separate the public and other facilities from the consequences of an incident involving hazardous materials. This zone describes the allowable land uses around a hazardous facility.
Building code
A set of ordinances or regulations and associated standards intended to control aspects of the design, construction, materials, alteration and occupancy of structures that are necessary to ensure human safety and welfare, including resistance to collapse and damage.
Business impact analysis (BIA)
A process designed to prioritize business functions by assessing the potential quantitative (financial) and qualitative (non-financial) impact that might result if an organization was to experience a service disruption.
Business resumption
The process for restarting business functions and services following a disruption.
An emergency of particularly severe proportions.
Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) incident
This is an incident that involves a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and/or explosive situation that may require a response by specialized teams and equipment.
Cold site
An alternate facility that has in place the basic infrastructure required to function as an operations centre or to assist in the recovery of critical business functions or information systems, but does not have any pre-installed computer hardware or telecommunications equipment.
Cold zone
An uncontaminated area where workers and equipment could be assembled without risk of exposure to hazardous conditions.
The act of directing, ordering, or controlling by virtue of explicit statutory, regulatory, or delegated authority.
Advisories, directives, information and messages that are transmitted.
A generic term that includes both municipalities and First Nations.
Comprehensive emergency management
It is an all-encompassing risk-based approach to emergency management that includes prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery measures.
The outcome of an event or situation expressed qualitatively or quantitatively, being a loss, injury or disadvantage.
Continuity of operations plan (COOP)
A plan developed and maintained to direct an organization’s internal response to an emergency.
Crisis management
From a business continuity planning perspective, this term refers to the overall coordination of an organization’s response to a crisis in an effective, timely manner, with the goal of avoiding or minimizing damage to the organization’s profitability, reputation, and ability to operate.
Critical infrastructure (CI)
Interdependent, interactive, interconnected networks of institutions, services, systems and processes that meet vital human needs, sustain the economy, protect public safety and security, and maintain continuity of and confidence in government.
Critical infrastructure assurance (CIA)
The application of risk management and business continuity management processes and techniques for the purpose of reducing the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure in both the physical and cyber realms by decreasing the frequency, duration and scope of disruptions and facilitating response and recovery.
Critical infrastructure assurance program (CIAP)
A province-wide program to identify Ontario’s critical systems — infrastructure, facilities, technologies, networks, assets, processes, and services; assess the interconnectedness and interdependencies of these critical systems, and develop strategies to increase the resiliency of these critical systems.
Critical response team (CRT)
Within a business continuity plan this term refers to the team responsible for initiating the organization’s internal response to ensure safety of staff and initiate evacuation if required during a service disruption.
Damage assessment
An appraisal or determination of the effects of a disaster on people, property, the environment, the economy and/or services.
Declaration of emergency
A signed declaration made in writing by the head of council or the premier of ontario in accordance with the emergency management and civil protection act. This declaration is usually based on a situation or an impending situation that threatens public safety, public health, the environment, critical infrastructure, property, and/or economic stability and exceeds the scope of routine community emergency response.
  • municipal declaration of emergency: a declaration of emergency made by the head of council of a municipality, based on established criteria.
  • provincial declaration of emergency: a declaration of emergency made by the lieutenant governor in council or the premier of ontario, based on established criteria.
A fully qualified individual who, in the absence of a superior, can be delegated the authority to manage a functional operation or perform a specific task. In some cases, a deputy can act as relief for a superior and, therefore, must be fully qualified in the position. Deputies can be assigned to the incident commander, general staff and branch directors.
A serious disruption to an affected area, involving widespread human, property, environmental and / or economic impacts, that exceed the ability of one or more affected communities to cope using their own resources.
Disaster area
A geographic area within which a disaster has occurred.
The ordered movement of a resource or resources to an assigned operational mission or an administrative move from one location to another.
The partition of an incident into geographical areas of operation. Divisions are established when the number of resources exceeds the manageable span of control of the operations chief. A division is located within the IMS organization between the branch and resources in the operations section.
Donations management
The management of donations (services, funds, material goods and volunteers) during an emergency by any level of government whose aim is to provide victims of disasters with as much support as possible by effective and efficient channelling of offers from the public and/or private sectors.
A situation or an impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise (Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act).
Emergency area
A geographic area within which an emergency has occurred or is about to occur, and which has been identified, defined and designated to receive emergency response actions.
Emergency control group (ECG)
A group composed of senior staff and employees of an organization, and others that may be involved in directing that organization’s response to an emergency including, the implementation of its emergency response plans and procedures.
Emergency information (EI)
Information about an emergency that can be disseminated in anticipation of an emergency or during an emergency. It may provide situational information or directive actions to be taken by the public.
Emergency information centre (EIC)
A designated facility that is properly equipped to monitor and coordinate emergency information activities including the dissemination of information to the public.
Emergency information officer (EIO)
An individual responsible for acting as the primary public and media contact for emergency information requirements.
Emergency management (EM)
Organized activities undertaken to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from actual or potential emergencies.
Emergency Management Ontario (EMO)
EMO is a branch within the Treasury Board Secretariat with overall provincial emergency management responsibility. EMO is responsible for the coordination, promotion, development, implementation and maintenance of effective emergency management programs throughout Ontario and for the coordination of these programs with the federal government.
Emergency management program
A risk-based program consisting of prescribed elements that may include prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery activities.
Emergency Management Program Committee (EMPC)
A management team that oversees the development, implementation and maintenance of an organization’s emergency management program.
Emergency management program coordinator (EMPC)
A position designated to develop, implement and maintain an organization’s emergency management program.
Emergency management program standards
Common criteria used to develop, implement, maintain and measure the performance of an emergency management program.
Emergency operations centre (EOC)
A designated and appropriately equipped facility where officials from an organization(s) assemble to manage the response to an emergency or disaster.
Emergency plan
A plan developed and maintained to direct an organization’s external and/or internal response to an emergency.
Emergency response organization
A group (public, private or volunteer), trained in emergency response that may be called upon to respond to an emergency situation.
Emergency response plan
A plan developed and maintained to direct an organization’s external response to an emergency.
The process of assessing the effectiveness of an emergency management program, plan and/or exercise etc.
Executive authority
The premier or a minister designated by the premier, who exercises the emergency powers available under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.E.9.
A simulated emergency in which players carry out actions, functions, and responsibilities that would be expected of them in a real emergency. Exercises can be used to validate plans and procedures, and to practice prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities. (For further information on types of exercises please see the Provincial Exercise Guidelines).
Finance and administration section
Within IMS, the section responsible for the financial and cost analysis support to an incident.
Hazard identification
A structured process for identifying those hazards which exist within a selected area and defining their causes and characteristics.
A phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage. These may include natural, technological or human-caused incidents or some combination of these.
Hazardous material
A substance (gas, liquid or solid) capable of causing harm to people, property and/or the environment, the economy and/or services, for example, a toxic, flammable or explosive substance.
Heavy urban search and rescue (HUSAR) team
A multi-service, multi-skilled, and multi-functional task force that is trained and prepared to locate, treat and remove persons trapped in collapsed structures.
Hot zone (also referred to as the exclusion zone)
Is the area where contamination may occur. The primary activities performed in this area are hazard assessment, control of the release or hazard and rescue. Personnel working in the hot zone wear high-level personal protective equipment required for that site.
Human-caused hazard
A hazard which results from direct human action, either intentional or unintentional. (for example, terrorism, civil disorder etc.).
The negative effect of a hazardous incident on people, property, the environment, the economy and/or services.
An occurrence or event that requires an emergency response to protect people, property, the environment, the economy and/or services.
Incident action plan (IAP)
Within IMS, an oral or written plan containing general objectives reflecting the overall strategy for managing an incident. It may include the identification of operational resources and assignments. It may also include attachments that provide direction and important information for management of the incident during one or more operational periods.
Incident command/incident commander (IC)
The entity/individual responsible for all incident activities, including the development of strategies and tactics and the ordering and release of resources. The IC has overall authority for conducting incident operations and is responsible for the management of all incident operations.
Incident Management System (IMS)
A standardized approach to emergency management encompassing personnel, facilities, equipment, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure. The IMS is predicated on the understanding that in any and every incident there are certain management functions that must be carried out regardless of the number of persons who are available or involved in the emergency response.
Knowledge, information or data that may increase situational awareness of an event or an impending event.
The ability of organizations and systems to exchange information, communicate effectively and work well together. This applies to technological and functional interoperability.
Land use planning
The process undertaken by public authorities to identify, evaluate and decide on different options for the use of land to help mitigate and prevent disasters by discouraging settlements and construction of key installations in hazard-prone areas.
Liaison officer (LO)
An individual assigned the responsibility to act as a link between his or her organization and other organizations.
Logistics section
Within IMS the section responsible for providing facilities, services, and material support for the incident.
Lower tier municipality
A lower tier municipality is the most basic unit of local government and includes townships, towns, and cities within a county or region, but excludes single tier municipalities.
Ministry Action Group (MAG)
The Ministry Action Group (MAG) is composed of the deputy minister or designate of the ministry, the senior ministry official appointed to the ministry’s emergency management program committee, the ministry’s emergency management program coordinator; and such other ministry employees as may be appointed by the minister. The group shall direct the ministry’s response in an emergency, including the implementation of the ministry’s emergency plan.
Actions taken to reduce the adverse impacts of an emergency or disaster. Such actions may include diversion or containment measures to lessen the impacts of a flood or a spill.
The geographic area whose inhabitants are incorporated (Municipal Act, 2001).
Mutual aid agreement
An agreement developed between two or more emergency services to render aid to the parties of the agreement. These types of agreements can include private sector emergency services when appropriate.
Mutual assistance agreement
An agreement developed between two or more jurisdictions to render assistance to the parties of the agreement. Jurisdictions covered with these types of agreements could include neighbouring cities, regions, provinces or nations.
Natural hazard
A naturally occurring event such as a forest fire, flood and/or severe weather that has the potential to harm people, property, the environment, the economy and/or services.
Non-governmental organization (NGO)
An entity with a common interest or focus that is not created by a government, but may work cooperatively with governments.
Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP)
This is an assistance program designed to help municipalities, individuals, farmers, small business, and non-profit organizations get back on their feet after a natural disaster. It is intended to cover the costs of returning essential items to pre-disaster condition for people who have suffered damage in designated disaster areas.
Operations section
Within IMS, the section responsible for all tactical incident operations. It normally includes subordinate branches, divisions, and/or groups.
Planning section
Within IMS, the section responsible for the collection, evaluation, and dissemination of operational information related to the incident, and for the preparation and documentation of the IAP. This section also maintains information on the current and forecasted situation and on the status of resources assigned to the incident.
Actions taken prior to an emergency or disaster to ensure an effective response. These actions include the formulation of emergency response plans, business continuity/continuity of operations plans, training, exercises, and public awareness and education.
Actions taken to stop an emergency or disaster from occurring. Such actions may include legislative controls, zoning restrictions, improved operating standards/procedures or critical infrastructure management.
Private sector
A business or industry not owned or managed by any level of government.
The likelihood of an event occurring that may result in an emergency, disaster or service disruption.
Provincial Disaster Assessment Team (PDAT)
A multi-ministry recovery response team that is dispatched to a community to assess damage following a disaster event and to recommend on a financial disaster assistance program for recovery.
Provincial emergency operations centre (PEOC)
A fully equipped facility maintained by Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) that can be activated in response to, or in anticipation of, emergencies. The PEOC is staffed with appropriate representatives from ministries that have been delegated responsibilities for those emergencies as well as EMO staff. It serves as an initial point-of-contact for the affected municipality and federal interests.
Provincial Emergency Response Team (PERT)
A response team comprised of relevant provincial officials that is dispatched to provide advice and assistance to local authorities during an emergency or disaster.
Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan (PNERP)
A cabinet-approved emergency response plan for nuclear facility emergencies mandated under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and maintained by the Province of Ontario.
Public awareness program
A program that provides generic information to the broader public to raise awareness about emergency management and suggests ways to reduce the risk of loss of life and property damage in the event of an emergency.
Public education program
A program that provides focused information to a target audience to educate about protective actions to reduce the risk of life and property damage, in the event of an emergency.
Public sector
All government services at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
Reception centre
Usually located outside the impact zone of the emergency, the reception centre is a place where evacuees can go to register, receive assistance for basic needs, information and referral to a shelter if required.
The process of restoring a stricken community to a pre-disaster level of functioning. This may include the provision of financial assistance, repairing buildings and/or restoration of the environment.
Recovery plan
An emergency plan that is developed and maintained to recover from an emergency or disaster.
Recovery point objective (RPO)
The maximum amount of data loss an organization can sustain during an event.
Recovery time objective (RTO)
The period of time within which systems, applications, or functions must be recovered after an outage. RTOs are often used as the basis for the development of recovery strategies, and as a determinant as to whether or not to implement the recovery strategies during a disaster situation.
The ability to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner.
Resource management
Efficient incident management requires a system for identifying available resources at all levels to enable timely and unimpeded access to resources needed to prepare for, respond to, or recover from an incident. Resource management under the IMS includes mutual-aid / mutual-assistance agreements, and resource mobilization protocols.
These are personnel and major items of equipment, supplies, and facilities available or potentially available for assignment to incident operations and for which status is maintained. Resources are described by kind and type and may be used in operational or support capacities.
The provision of emergency services and public assistance or intervention during or immediately after an incident in order to protect people, property, the environment, the economy and/or services. This may include the provision of resources such as personnel, services and/or equipment.
Restricted zone
The area, within which exposure control measures are likely to be needed, based on the results of field monitoring.
The product of the probability of the occurrence of a hazard and its consequences.
Risk assessment
A methodology to determine the nature and extent of risk by analyzing potential hazards and the evaluation of vulnerabilities and consequences.
Safety officer (SO)
A member of the Command Staff responsible for monitoring and assessing safety hazards or unsafe situations and for developing measures for ensuring personnel safety.
The extent of disruption and/or damages associated with a hazard.
This term is used to specify mandatory requirements.
This term is used to specify recommended practices.
Single-tier municipality
Includes a separated municipality that is geographically located within a county / region but is not a part of the county / region for municipal purposes. Single-tier municipalities also include all northern municipalities where there is no upper-tier governance at the district level. A single-tier municipality has responsibilities for all local services to their residents.
The geographical location of an incident.
Span of control
The number of individuals a supervisor is responsible for, usually expressed as the ratio of supervisors to individuals. Typically the span of control is between 1:3 and 1:7.
Staging area
Location established where resources can be placed while awaiting a tactical assignment. The operations section manages staging areas.
Common criteria used to measure performance.
Technological hazard
A hazard which results from the failure or misuse of technology, either intentional or unintentional such as a power outage, cyber attack etc.
Is the transmission and/or receipt of messages, for the purpose of communicating over some distance, via a range of technical systems including radio and microwave communications, as well as fiber optics, satellites and the Internet.
A person, thing or event that has the potential to cause harm or damage.
Time critical services
These are services that cannot be interrupted for more than a predetermined period of time without significantly impacting the organization.
Twinning (or partnership)
The process by which communities enter into arrangements or ‘twin’ with communities well outside their own geographic area in order to provide resources to assist in an emergency response effort.
Unorganized territory
A geographic area without municipal organization.
Upper tier municipality
A county or region of which two or more lower-tier municipalities form part for municipal purposes (Municipal Act, 2001)
The susceptibility of a community, system or asset to the damaging effects of a hazard.
Warm zone
An area adjacent to a hot zone where decontamination of personnel and equipment takes place.


The following references were consulted during the development of this document:

  • The Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  • The Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act
  • The Municipal Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 25
  • Various ministries
  • The Australian Emergency Management Glossary
  • CSA Z1600 standard on Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs
  • NFPA 1600 standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs
  • Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI) Glossary of Terms
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Mutual Aid Glossary
  • Incident Management System (IMS) for Ontario Glossary of Key Terms
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 31000-10
  • ISO TC223
  • Public Safety Canada (PSC) Glossary
  • United Nations (UN) Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction


This glossary was produced as part of Ontario’s continuous improvement process for emergency management. A working group comprised of Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) staff and volunteers developed this glossary.

EMO gratefully acknowledges the generous contributions made by the members of the working group as listed below:

  • Andrenacci, Anna – Emergency Management Ontario
  • Etkin, David – York University
  • Howe, Sarah – Emergency Management Ontario
  • Kovacs, Paul – Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR)
  • Kowalski, Matthew – Emergency Management Ontario
  • Lazarus, Ray – Program Manager Emergency Management Ontario
  • Martel¸ Patricia – Emergency Management Ontario
  • Meyers, Ron – Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
  • Moore, Joseph – Emergency Management Ontario
  • Stone, Jonathan – Emergency Management Ontario
  • Webb, Lorraine – Co-Chair Emergency Management Ontario
  • Zikovitz, Gary – Chair Ministry of the Environment