Emergency Preparedness Planning & Lessons from Recent Natural Disasters: Part 2

Published September 8, 2017

This is the second of a two-part blog. Read part one here.

I recently participated in several excellent webinars on the topic of emergency planning, including how the Calgary non-profit sector responded to the southern Alberta floods in 2013, and how the telecommunications company TELUS responded to the same event as well as the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016. These two events are Canada's costliest natural disasters to date, collectively amassing nearly $10 billion dollars in damages, in addition to the displacement of more than roughly 188,000 people from their homes.

In the case of the Calgary floods, this event revealed a lack of proper emergency planning and prompted a collaboration between the public sector and non-profit organizations to facilitate emergency planning response, to develop networks of communication, and to maintain business continuity. This emergency preparedness initiative has served to establish a service group who may be called upon in a joint response capacity to support vulnerable Calgarians in a time of crisis. This group is also a platform for information sharing, planning, and coordination. Citing a sport-specific example from the floods, a football team at their practice was evacuated from the field by police and, as part of the post-flood research, discussions were held by the group as to how this protocol could be implemented in the future. Presenter Mike Grogan from the Calgary Chamber of Volunteer Organizations, an experienced risk manager and backcountry wilderness expert, made two poignant statements during his presentation on the Calgary floods:

1) We are still fairly new to this game (emergency planning) as a society; and

2) If an emergency occurs and you aren't prepared for it, you're already too late.

As for the Fort McMurray wildfires and the efforts of TELUS, the webinar provided great insight into the emergency management eco-system of TELUS and how it is activated and coordinated. When the wildfires occurred, priority response was escalated to an Emergency Management Operating Committee (EMOC) which was immediately engaged, and this team activated its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in a physical office in downtown Calgary. TELUS relied on an emergency preparedness plan that was developed and revised through six-plus years of floods, wildfires, ice storms, power outages, work stoppages, and major sport events (Vancouver Olympics, Stanley Cup, Pan-Am/Para Pan-Am Games). As a result, TELUS was able to efficiently activate and transport emergency cell phone service, deploy trailer-based portable cell towers into areas where cell phone signals were lost or could be lost (these have also been used for major sport events), support local emergency services in their response efforts, establish an evacuee reception centre, distribute comfort kits, arrange a Red Cross text message fundraising campaign, assist families and businesses with re-entry, and provide an array of complimentary phone devices and services to those in need. Furthermore, they took care of their own. Sixty-five TELUS team members were personally impacted by the wildfires and, in addition to their safe evacuation, received temporary relocation support, new technology, on-site counselling, payroll continuance with optional leaves of absence, and assistance with their home assessments. In summary, the commitment by TELUS in the wake the Fort McMurray wildfires was a massive undertaking, driven by strong values and the organization's commitment to emergency planning.

While the natural disasters experienced in Alberta may seem as extreme examples to sport, they nonetheless provide us with valuable knowledge and concepts for effective risk management. They emphasize the need for planning and for collaboration between various public and private stakeholders. Learning from past events, future disasters are further mitigated by building upon those plans and best practices. Risk managers can utilize new technologies and their expanding networks to continuously raise their safety standards. The disasters also serve as a reminder that we should always be prepared for potential emergencies via a proactive approach, not a reactive one.

Invest in Event Safety

In our risk management workshops we often hear the line, "we are one serious collision/fall/drowning away from a serious lawsuit." The reality is that with so many sports, inherent dangers have always existed on some level and in some ways, have become bigger than ever due to the potential negative implications on an organization (legal, reputational). All sports have an accountability to their participants to ensure that, when an emergency occurs at their event, they are reasonably prepared to respond, protect and provide a positive outcome to a potentially dangerous situation.

Although more sport organizations are trending towards effective risk management practices in their overall operations, I encourage you to look specifically at your events, which is often where high risks and potentially emergencies reside. By investing in event safety via an emergency preparedness plan, you can position your sport as an industry leader and achieve success in the face of adversity.

jer@sportlaw.ca @sportarchitect


[1] Emergency planning and the non-profit sector (webinar) - Grogan, M & Whelly, J. (2017) 

[2] Ensuring communications when disaster strikes: Lessons learned by TELUS (webinar) - Galin, M & Hortobagyi, J. (2017)

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