I’ll admit it: there are some things I’m more than a little bit of a geek about. One of them, strangely enough, is emergency plans.
In a variety of roles, I’ve worked on them for years: on community emergency plans, fire department pre-planning, even large-scale business recovery plans.
So I was fascinated on Friday to see the provincial government announce and release its Provincial Emergency Management Plan.
I clicked right through to see the sort of things you might expect: the range of crises the province considered possible, the direct lines of communication set up between decision-makers, the pre-planned points of liaison between emergency services and suppliers.
You know, a plan to manage in the event of an emergency.
I was kind of startled to see that the province’s emergency plan is 15 pages of, well, bureaucracy.
For example, a chunk of the plan will tell you “the co-ordinating agency is defined as the organization assigned by legislation, regulation, policy or a plan to co-ordinate the efforts of governments, support agencies and other emergency management partners in the provision of required assistance to the designated lead agency.”
All right then. Maybe I was looking for the wrong thing. Maybe I misunderstood what the government meant by a plan.
The problem? Many of the things in the plan are a given, anyway. Do we need to have it spelled out that the province will try to “save lives and reduce suffering” or “to protect the environment and property”?
You’d kind of expect that they would be doing that anyway.
The purpose of the plan is valuable enough: it’s supposed to be a document that “identifies and directs the government’s approach to ensuring appropriate preparedness, response and recovery strategies are in place and tested; and describes the province’s emergency management system and clearly articulates how government will connect with and support all partners in a risk-based, all-hazards focused emergency management system.”
But somewhere amongst the concepts, there have to be some facts. Just about the only fact is that Fire and Emergency Services NL has an emergency number, and that it will “endeavour to provide support services on a 24/7/365 basis.”
Not one of the other partners is actually named, nor is there any information on how government will “connect with and support all partners.”
There is 15 pages of other stuff, like, for example a section spelling out that citizens have to be prepared to fend for themselves for the first 72 hours — an absolutely boilerplate concept that the Red Cross and other agencies have been making plain for years.
There’s also details about how private industry has a role to play. What is that role? Well, it’s really spelled out clearly: “Industry will respond in accordance with applicable provincial and federal policy, legislation and regulation. It is the responsibility of industry to understand and be prepared to meet the full extent of their emergency management responsibility.”
It is apparently not the responsibility of the provincial government’s emergency management plan to point out what those private sector responsibilities might be — meaning, should something happen tomorrow that means the plan has to be put in place, private industry might not have a clue what is or could be expected of them.
It’s not really a plan — what it is, is a scoping document, in some ways, more a plan to make a plan than anything else.
Kevin O’Brien, the minister responsible for Fire and Emergency Services, said in an interview Friday that it’s “dangerous” to map out too many specifics, because the scenarios are just too broad and trying to address them all would limit government’s flexibility. Well, when hurricane Igor struck, a little less flexibility and a little more pre-planning might have made everyone’s lives a little simpler and a lot safer.
I’d suggest it’s far more dangerous to map out too little.
By all means, read it for yourself: http://www.gov.nl.ca/fes/pemp/pemp_plan.pdf. It’s long on buzzwords and short on concise structure.
Read the plan — a big chunk of it is definitions — and see if you feel reassured that the government is prepared for any and all risks.
Maybe, like I said, I’m a geek. I expected a little more.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.