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An Enduring Democracy: A Look into Emergency Preparedness at Elections BC

Behind the scenes of British Columbia’s electoral process lies a carefully crafted emergency plan designed to address unforeseen challenges. In an exclusive interview, we explore the pragmatic approach of Elections BC towards emergency preparedness. Through insights from Elections BC’s communications team, we uncover the strategies, adaptations, and practical measures that underpin the organization’s commitment to ensuring the integrity of the democratic process. 

 “Our emergency plan is based on ensuring business continuity,” their team explains. At its core, Elections BC prioritizes accessibility to the voting process, safeguarding the constitutional right of every citizen. Despite emergencies, the organization remains steadfast in its commitment to facilitating a seamless voting experience for as long as the safety of its staff can be maintained. 

Elections BC logo

Planning for Fluctuating Circumstances 

With almost 20,000 temporary staff members and numerous temporary locations, Elections BC navigates a landscape of fluctuating dynamics every election. “Our processes and procedures are designed carefully to ensure they meet the requirements of the Election Act,” they wrote.Our reference materials and escalation processes recognize that many of our key frontline staff only have a few days or weeks on the job. This is vital to ensure British Columbians receive a high level of service when they go to vote.” 

Preparing Diverse Voting Locations 

From bustling urban centers to remote corners of British Columbia, Elections BC prepares over a thousand voting places, encompassing schools, places of worship, and community centers. These locations are typically well known by the community and accessible to voters, removing barriers that might otherwise discourage voters. 

A sign for a polling station

Mitigating Risks on Multiple Fronts 

Elections BC’s meticulous event planning covers a wide variety of risks, including weather-related disruptions, public health emergencies, staffing issues, physical security threats, and cybersecurity risks. Each risk is meticulously cataloged in a risk register: “The risk register rates the impact if the risk were to occur, the actions we will take to mitigate the risk, and the actions we will take if the risk occurs.”  

Best Practice Spotlight: Elections BC’s risk register is an excellent example of a well thought out emergency plan. This documentation is a great way to lower the burden and risk of emergencies in any organization. Well distributed and detailed plans provide direction and allow coordination between teams, even when communication might not be easily accessible.

Navigating Weather-Related Challenges 

In the face of extreme weather events, Elections BC remains agile, ready to adapt voting processes to ensure voter safety. From relocating voting places to offering alternative voting methods, such as Assisted Telephone Voting, Elections BC is prepared to do what it takes to keep voting accessible and safe, whatever the weather. 

Cars driving a flooded highway.

Responding to Major Disasters 

The Chief Electoral Officer of British Columbia holds the authority to issue orders in response to emergencies, including the potential postponement of deadlines established by the Election Act. While it has never been necessary to postpone legislated deadlines because of a major emergency, such measures ensure the continuity of democratic processes even in the wake of serious disasters.  

Prioritizing Public Health 

During recent public health emergencies, Elections BC implemented rigorous medical protocols at polling stations, including the provision of PPE, sanitation supplies, plexiglass barriers, and physical distancing measures. They also have communicable disease prevention plans in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of voters and staff alike. 

Addressing Cybersecurity Concerns 

With a robust cybersecurity program in place, Elections BC collaborates closely with the Office of the Chief Information Officer of British Columbia to fortify electoral systems against cyber threats. Systems and processes are tested for cyber security vulnerabilities before being deployed in an election. Ballot tabulators are used to count paper ballots and are never connected to the internet. Paper ballots are retained in case of a recount. This ensures the integrity of the voting process while providing a fail-safe against potential cyber intrusions. 

The image of a lock superimposed over a laptop.

Lessons from Experience 

Elections BC’s resilience was tested during the 2020 provincial election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Every election takes years of planning and coordination to conduct and having to adapt 20,000 temporary staff and locations across the province presented a monumental challenge. Elections BC rose to the occasion, rapidly deploying comprehensive safety measures, training, and a concerted public awareness campaign to ensure the successful execution of the electoral process amid unprecedented circumstances. 

The Role of Total Prepare 

Elections BC tracks the contents, locations, and expiry dates of their earthquake kits to ensure the contents remain fresh and relevant. Recently, Total Prepare was chosen to help resupply some of the emergency kits where supplies were ready for replenishment. When asked about the experience, Elections BC’s team said: 

“We had a positive experience working with Total Prepare. We provided them with all our headquarters emergency supplies and they were able to replenish the expired supplies and return them to us quickly. They also provided guidance for us in how we could update our inventories to keep pace with current emergency preparedness best practices… 

… We live and work in an earthquake zone and it is important that our staff have access to what they might need if an emergency occurs at work. We also encourage our staff to consider personal emergency preparedness at home. Total Prepare provided our staff with earthquake kits at a discount in the event they wished to purchase them for personal use.” 

Best Practice Spotlight: In a large organization with a lot of moving parts, it is extra important to keep your emergency supplies well organized and documented. Check them annually to ensure they are where they will be most useful, not nearing expiry, and that there is enough to account for any increases in staffing.

Looking Ahead 

As the provincial general election on October 19, 2024, approaches, Elections BC continues its commitment to upholding democracy with diligence. Through proactive planning, adaptability, and steadfast dedication, the organization stands as a testament to the strength of democratic institutions. 

To learn more about the upcoming provincial general election, visit elections.bc.ca and join us in shaping the future of democracy in British Columbia. 

A lapel with an "I voted" sticker on it.

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