ARCHIVE - Discussion paper: National Disaster Mitigation Strategy

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Discussion paper: National Disaster Mitigation Strategy (PDF 99KB)


Canadians in all regions are exposed to risk from natural and human-induced disasters. As natural and social environments change, technological dependencies and interdependencies contribute to the complexity of managing the consequences of disasters. Experience suggests that adverse effects of disasters can be diminished through proactive and sustained risk reduction measures taken before disasters occur.

There are many examples of successful mitigation measures. The Red River Floodway, built in the 1960s, is an example of structural mitigation. Costing just over $60 million the floodway has been used more than 20 times to reduce flood impacts. During the 1997 Red River Flood alone, it is estimated to have prevented $6 billion in damages. Examples of non-structural mitigation include public education, preservation of natural environments, flood plain mapping, community relocation, and improved prediction of severe weather. A comparative study of Ontario and Michigan following a severe rainfall event in 1986 concluded that damage in Ontario, from the same storm, was less severe than in Michigan due to Ontario's policies that limited development in floodplains.

The losses prevented by successful mitigation measures have led governments, the private and voluntary sectors, and other stakeholders to believe that mitigation is an investment in Canada's future and not a cost. Accordingly, the Government of Canada is moving forward to develop a national strategy by which all levels of government and interested stakeholders can co-operate effectively to evaluate, prioritize and implement risk and impact reduction measures.

In the fall of 1998, OCIPEP, in cooperation with the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), conducted five regional workshops and a national conference on mitigation. Participants included a broad range of stakeholders, including not-for-profit organizations, First Nations groups, industry, academia and governments from every jurisdiction. Through these discussions, a consensus was reached that a national mitigation policy is needed.

In 1998, the Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial Conference of Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Preparedness endorsed the proposal that the existing emergency management framework for Canada be expanded to include disaster mitigation and that an appropriate national strategy to implement this expansion be given serious consideration. Since these discussions, pressure has increased from a number of sources for the Government of Canada to lead the development of a disaster mitigation strategy. These groups include: provincial premiers, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, and the International Joint Commission.


The Government of Canada supports a collaborative and coordinated approach for disaster mitigation. This document is posted on our web site and forms a key element for a consultation process that will include a continuous dialogue with stakeholders. The consultations are intended to obtain views on the scope, policies and mechanisms for coordinating and implementing disaster mitigation activities in Canada. As a starting point for dialogue, this document provides a concept of disaster mitigation and a rationale for a national disaster mitigation strategy. It proposes a possible mitigation framework and poses questions to stimulate ideas and discussion. The purpose is to encourage better mutual understanding of disaster mitigation and contribute to the formulation of recommendations to the Government of Canada concerning the development of a policy framework for Canada's first-ever National Disaster Mitigation Strategy (NDMS).

What is disaster mitigation?

Effective emergency management encompasses four pillars:

The concept of disaster mitigation is complex enough. Its definition is debated. In the emergency management context, 'preparedness' and 'response' sometimes might be considered 'mitigation'. However, 'preparedness' and 'response' actions are primarily geared toward readiness for dealing with unexpected or imminent events. In contrast, 'mitigation' focuses on sustained measures, implemented well in advance, to avoid or lessen the impact of anticipated disasters (e.g. incorporating policies aimed at vulnerability and risk reduction into daily decision making). Mitigation reduces the risk, impact and reoccurrence of disasters. Mitigation is intended to diminish the response and recovery activities required to manage disasters when they occur. Consequently, mitigation can save lives and minimize damage to property.

The need for a national disaster mitigation strategy

The current focus of emergency management in Canada tends to be centered on preparedness, response and recovery arrangements. Mitigation tends to be an implicit requirement. As a result, the state of preparedness, response, and assistance in Canada is increasingly comprehensive and of high quality with respect to known "routine" emergency situations. Mitigation requires further attention. Mitigation requires enhanced efforts and integration and coordination to complement existing emergency management capabilities. The NDMS will seek to lay the foundation for strengthened mitigation measures, including coordination, collaboration, information sharing and knowledge development.

One in three Canadians live in regions that are susceptible to earthquakes. Many reside in areas subject to flooding. Transportation accidents, hazardous spills and severe storms affect many Canadians each year. These incidents cause death, injury and damage to the economy, society, technological infrastructure and environment which harms the security and wellbeing of citizens. Experts believe that larger natural disasters than have ever been experienced in Canada are inevitable. A key finding of the International Joint Commission's (IJC) final report on Red River flooding concluded that another flood, greater than the 1997 event, is expected. Canadian seismologists have predicted that a major earthquake will occur along Canada's West Coast. Global climate change is expected to increase the risks of certain types of extreme weather and climate events.

Over the past 50 years, significant changes have occurred in our economic, socio-demographic, and technological environment. Increasingly, Canadians choose to live in urban centers that are heavily reliant on technology, highways, airports, harbors, rail lines, dams, and water/sewer pipelines. The infrastructure on which Canadians rely is susceptible to natural disaster. At the same time, advanced computer-based technologies and increased dependencies create new risks and vulnerabilities that warrant ongoing proactive measures. In the face of these increasing and changing risks, a concerted campaign of mitigative action could prevent hazards from becoming disasters.

Catastrophic disasters cause enormous costs to Canadians. In the last five years, Canada experienced three of its most devastating natural disasters. Together, the 1996 Saguenay floods, the 1997 Red River flood, and the 1998 Ice Storms have so far amounted to an estimated $7.8 billion in costs to governments, private and voluntary sectors . Losses from less significant disasters and from indirect or unquantifiable costs related to social, institutional and environmental impacts will never be known. If the predicted increase in catastrophic events is true, it is likely that individuals, communities, and governments, will face increased risk of death, suffering, destruction, and cost from disasters. Supporting mitigation efforts could save large expenditures in response and recovery costs incurred due to disasters. In 1995, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated that $1 invested in disaster mitigation saved $2 in damages.

The 1998 consultations determined that while Canadians are aware of hazards in their environment, they do not have fully adequate knowledge of the risks and how to mitigate against them. A key message from the consultations was the need for leadership from the Government of Canada and the requirement for cooperative arrangements among all levels of government and with key stakeholders in the area of disaster mitigation.

On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the terrorist attacks against the United States in New York and Washington that raised fundamental questions about Canada's capacity to protect the safety, security and well-being of Canadians from catastrophic events of a scale rarely seen in this country. The attacks suggest the need for proactive collaboration among all players to examine risks and vulnerability to all hazards and implement measures to reduce Canada's exposure to them.

Our recent experience with major disasters, escalating costs, increasing and changing risks, and stakeholder concerns highlight that the current approach for dealing with disasters could be enhanced by both structural and non-structural mitigation measures to reduce the risks and costs from disasters. The Government of Canada is initiating consultations, in response to these concerns, to investigate mechanisms and policy options for disaster mitigation.

Proposed elements

The proposed elements of a national disaster mitigation strategy described here are based on the themes and key areas highlighted by the 1998 consultations. The results of these consultations were instrumental in leading to the Government's decision to work towards a national disaster mitigation strategy. The proposed elements listed below provide a focus for dialogue to help determine priorities and activities for a NDMS.

Policy considerations

The consultations are intended to contribute to the development of a national disaster mitigation strategy and policy framework within which to coordinate mitigation activities in Canada. Listed below for discussion purposes are preliminary considerations for a policy framework:

  1. Disaster mitigation in Canada should be implemented nationally in a consistent and coordinated manner.
  2. OCIPEP should act as the federal lead in coordinating and supporting national disaster mitigation efforts in Canada.
  3. Provincial/Territorial emergency management organizations should assume lead responsibility for coordinating mitigation efforts within provinces and territories.
  4. The NDMS should be flexible and inclusive to permit all jurisdictions to meet key mitigation priorities while observing national objectives and respecting or reinforcing parallel initiatives.
  5. The NDMS should be the basis upon which decisions to implement disaster mitigation measures, in any jurisdiction, will be supported.

Guiding principles and criteria

Guiding principles and criteria could be developed following the consultations, to provide direction and coordinate the various mitigation initiatives undertaken by governments and stakeholders. The guiding principles would ensure that the objectives of the NDMS are met and that mitigation proposals meet the specified NDMS criteria. The guiding principles would be designed to ensure sufficient flexibility for provinces/territories and stakeholders to develop regional mitigation strategies that are based on priorities identified in their respective jurisdictions, in consultation with local stakeholders.

Funding disaster mitigation

All governments, the private and voluntary sectors, and individuals have a role to play in disaster mitigation. Since mitigation is a shared responsibility, the consultations should provide insights beyond determining roles, responsibilities and mechanisms for mitigation and help answer questions on whether and how best to fund mitigation and what each stakeholder can do to support the implementation of disaster mitigation in Canada. Options for funding mitigation should take into account the preference for cost-shared arrangements among all levels of governments and key stakeholders. Methods for funding disaster mitigation can only be determined after the consultation process has been completed, when a full range of views have been considered, and once governments have agreed to next steps.

Implementing disaster mitigation

Stakeholder participation, availability of financial resources, the range of hazards, and vulnerability to them will influence successful disaster mitigation. In view of these factors, two alternative approaches to establishing the NDMS may be considered:

  1. Include all disasters in the NDMS from its inception.
  2. Phase-in the NDMS by addressing natural disasters first and in subsequent phases include human-induced disasters, based on case-by-case review of merits, affordability and manageability.

The first option is in line with OCIPEP's all-hazards approach to managing emergencies and disasters. Implementation of such an option, however, would be an enormous undertaking. The second approach could make initial implementation of the NDMS more manageable and allow incremental expansion over time to other forms of cost-effective disaster mitigation. The NDMS could be implemented to reduce risk and vulnerability over the long-term, in line with available resources, and could include both structural and non-structural mitigation measures. Should the second option be preferred, mitigation of human-induced disasters would continue to be addressed under other existing mechanisms.

Current provisions of the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) administered by OCIPEP cover the costs of returning property to pre-disaster conditions. The Government of Canada, through OCIPEP, provides funding in accordance with the DFAA to reimburse provinces/territories for expenses related to disaster response and recovery. After 30 years, the Government has launched its first review of the current DFAA guidelines. Any potential mitigation proposals received under the DFAA review will be considered in conjunction with NDMS proposals.

Governance and accountability

The Emergency Preparedness Act serves as the foundation for federal engagement in emergency planning and for the federal government's relationship with other jurisdictions in Canada. The Act assigns a wide range of leadership responsibilities to the designated Minister, from training and education to research and development to financial assistance programs. By Order in Council, the Minister of National Defence is the Minister designated as the lead Minister Responsible for Emergency Preparedness under the Emergency Preparedness Act.

The legislation also mandates each federal Minister to identify the contingencies affecting his or her portfolio and areas of accountability – and to develop effective plans to address those contingencies. The Solicitor General, for example, is responsible for the National Counter-Terrorism Plan, while the Minister of Health manages the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan.

Canada's emergency management system is premised on a tiered approach. Municipal/local authorities provide the first level of response, using local police, fire fighting, medical and emergency measures personnel. When the situation exceeds the capacity or resources of a municipality, the province or territory steps in to help, usually under the coordination of their Emergency Measures Organization (EMOs). Ninety-five per cent of disasters in Canada are handled exclusively at the local or provincial levels.

The federal government responds to disasters, when costs per capita exceed certain levels, when provincial or territorial resources are exhausted or when specialized support residing in federal institutions is required – for example, the Canadian Forces or Health Canada's Level 4 laboratory in Winnipeg. Addressing mitigation will require the establishment of similar provincial and territorial arrangements to facilitate national guidance and the coordination and implementation of mitigation measures.

Interdepartmental Mitigation Coordination Committee (IMCC)

Current Status: The Government of Canada has taken the first steps toward national leadership on mitigation. In January of 2001, a federal interdepartmental committee on mitigation, coordinated by OCIPEP, was established to compile information on roles, responsibilities, programs and activities related to mitigation in order to assess gaps and overlaps, and evaluate opportunities and priorities for federal government action on mitigation.

Potential Future Role: In the future, this federal interdepartmental committee could serve as a standing committee for the review of internal priorities for the Government of Canada. The committee could help ensure that initiatives are consistent with the NDMS guiding principles and criteria (that may be developed in the future) and complement the goals and objectives of other jurisdictions and stakeholders.

National Disaster Mitigation Strategy Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial Advisory Group

Current Status: Recognizing the shared responsibilities of federal, provincial and territorial governments, OCIPEP has established a National Disaster Mitigation Strategy FPT Advisory Group to address mitigation issues in support of a NDMS. Each province/territory has nominated a representative to the NDMS FPT Advisory Group to oversee the process for identifying respective mitigation priorities.

Potential Future Role: Future roles of the NDMS FPT Advisory Group could include responsibility for reviewing provincial/territorial mitigation initiatives prior to presenting them to the existing Federal/Provincial/Territorial Conference of Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Preparedness (which has a broad mandate and role). Coordination mechanisms should provide the federal, provincial, territorial governments, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders with a forum for dialogue and to coordinate policy decisions respecting mitigation.

Stakeholder participation

Meaningful participation by stakeholders (using the term in the broadest sense to include governments, private sector, communities, non-government sectors and others) is essential to the development, implementation and evolution of disaster mitigation activities. Stakeholders are encouraged to participate in these consultations to ensure that proposed initiatives address specific regional and community needs, reinforce mutual objectives, and strengthen the guiding principles and criteria of the NDMS.

Participation in the NDMS could be based on the current tiered approach for managing disaster response and recovery in Canada. The provinces and territories would work collaboratively with local governments and mitigation stakeholders to identify local hazards and identify mitigation gaps, overlaps and priorities within their jurisdictions and bring together decision making and implementation of mitigation measures that support the NDMS. The federal government is seeking clarification in this area on the most appropriate stakeholder roles for implementing a national mitigation strategy.

The following preliminary options set out different ways for stakeholders to participate in the initiative for establishing Canada's first ever NDMS. Options reflect a starting point for dialogue.

Option One – National Coordination of Mitigation Efforts



Option Two – A National Mitigation Program Management Group



There are many possible roles for stakeholders in a NDMS. To build on the two options outlined above, a chart follows for further discussion.

Table 1: Possible Role of Mitigation Stakeholders
Stakeholder Possible Role
  • Lead the development of a NDMS in partnership with stakeholders.
  • Through the federal interdepartmental committee encourage all departments and agencies to participate into the formulation and implementation of the NDMS.
  • Facilitate federal/provincial/territorial participation in formulation and implementation of NDMS.
  • Monitor progress on development of a NDMS and provide core program management support.
  • Work with federal interdepartmental committee to guide federal government mitigation projects.
Other Federal Government Departments
  • Participate on federal interdepartmental committee.
  • Complete assessment of roles and responsibilities, and programs and activities.
  • Evaluate complementarity, gaps and duplication of existing mandates and programs.
  • Recommend ways to co-ordinate mitigation programs and activities.
  • Seek federal interdepartmental committee advice and support before submitting proposals to Cabinet for funding individual mitigation initiatives.
Provincial/ Territorial Governments
  • Participate on the federal/provincial/territorial NDMS FPT Advisory Group.
  • Facilitate development of strategic mitigation plans and mechanisms through the NDMS FPT Advisory Group that meet key priorities of the NDMS.
  • Coordinate provincial/territorial self-assessment of provincial/territorial roles and responsibilities, programs, and activities through EMOs to assess gaps and overlaps in existing programs.
  • Encourage local governments and municipalities to participate.
Municipal/ Local Governments/ First Nations
  • Work collaboratively with provinces/territories to determine local level mitigation priorities.
  • Participate on a provincial/territorial coordination mitigation group.
  • Encourage citizen-based groups to participate.
  • Develop mitigation action plans at the community level.
  • Implement and enforce of mitigation policy at the local level.
  • Submit proposals to NDMS FPT Advisory Group and/or an OCIPEP program management group for coordination of private/public efforts.
Academia/ Private Sector/ Non-Government Organizations/ Citizens
  • Participate in consultations.
  • Develop projects and plans to implement mitigation measures.
  • Contribute to recommendations on mechanisms and tools for partnerships with the private sector, academia and NGOs.
  • Submit proposals to NDMS FPT Advisory Group and/or an OCIPEP program management group for coordination of private/public efforts.
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