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Who Has the Burden of Responsibility In An Emergency?

Who’s responsible in the event of an emergency? At Total Prepare, we hear it all when it comes to who takes on that burden. People say that ‘the government will take care of us’ or ‘my parents have supplies, we’ll just go there’. Today, we’ll dive into the areas of responsibility in an emergency. Discover what help we can expect if the worst happens.  Above all, it pays to know just who’s responsible when the world goes awry.

An image of the Capitol building in Victoria, BC. The text reads: Who carries the burden of responsibility in an emergency?

Photo by Reid Naaykens on Unsplash. Text and other elements added by Total Prepare.

Who’s Responsible: Myth-Busting

First things first. Here in Victoria BC, we have a persistent rumour that there is a large cache of supplies. People believe that there’s a massive reverse osmosis water filter tucked away in the capital, ready to take care of the population. I’m sure there are similar stories in every city.

We have provided emergency supplies to individuals and government for over a decade. In all this time, we have yet to see anything to indicate the government will provide food, water and supplies for everyone.

Many government buildings are equipped with short-term supplies for staff – and this should be true for all organizations. A few BC municipalities go above and beyond with supplies for a few hundred residents, and certain organizations are prepared for a week or more of self-sustainability.  These include local Emergency Operations Centres and many first responders. However, once again, this is only for staff.

Which makes perfect sense! It would be expensive, cumbersome and nearly impossible to have one organization preparing for every citizen in their jurisdiction.

Who’s Responsible? Here’s What We Do Know

Every disaster we witness – from forest fires to earthquakes to pandemics – makes us more certain that Public Safety Canada is correct in their assessment that:

“All Canadians also have a role in building resilient communities, helping to keep hazards from becoming disasters and in recovering from disasters when they do happen. “Be Prepared”.”

Bob Black, a Central Saanich emergency manager for over 20 years, puts it another way:

“All members of the public have a responsibility to prepare themselves for an emergency or disaster. Understand the hazards and risks in your local area. Register for community-alert processes. Have an evacuation plan. Have an evacuation “grab and go” bag. Be aware of your surroundings. Take ownership of your preparedness.” – Times Colonist, 2018

The experts agree! If you are able to prepare, it is your responsibility to do so. In a major disaster, the government will have its hands full helping those in serious need. Take a step in the right direction.  Citizens should do what they can to minimize the government workload during these times.

Who’s Responsible: Your Network

You should feel comfortable going to your family and neighbours when you need help. BUT they should not be your sole supply plan. Coordinate with them to maximize the neighbourhood’s resources and check up on each other in emergency situations. Be sure to have your own plan and supplies at hand.

However, this may not be an option for you. If that is the case, be sure to talk to the people you will be relying on.  They need to know they’ll have an extra mouth to feed. A week’s supply for two people quickly dwindles to less than five days if you unexpectedly throw an extra person into the mix.

Who’s Responsible and What Do You Do?

Follow Bob’s great advice!  Purchase or build an emergency kit. Make sure to have a minimum of one week’s self-sufficiency items packed away. As a minimum, food and water are a must.  Remember to include the tools to prepare and serve the food. For a full suggestion list, check out our brochure on Sheltering in Place.

Be sure to visit your local municipality website to learn about the hazards in your area and how best to prepare for them.

Double check that they will apply to you. For example, your area might be in a tsunami zone, but you may be on high enough ground that evacuation would be unnecessary.

Last but not least, sign up for your local emergency alerts.  These systems are constantly improving in accuracy and coverage. They are one of the best ways to stay in touch with emergency coordination efforts across a city, province or even a country.

Who’s Responsible : Who’s Who in Emergency Response

At this point, some people will be wondering, If I’m doing all that – what are the emergency responders doing? Great question! There are a dizzying number of organizations, roles and resources involved in responding to a major disaster. If SHTF, they each have unique duties and responsibilities to help our communities endure.

First Responders

The local level is where all emergency preparedness begins. Paramedics, firefighters and police/RCMP officers are going to be the first line of defense in a disaster. Their responsibilities will be dealing with the immediate dangers – fire, injury, collapsing structures, rescue and coordinating evacuations.

Being prepared is vital for these brave workers. This preparedness applies to both the workplace and at home. In an enduring emergency, they may be required to stay on site for days or even weeks. A priority for fire services is to ensure that they have the supplies to maintain their crews during these situations. This is especially true in major urban areas.

(Did you know that Total Prepare offers a turnkey solution for firehalls?  It provides the calorie counts and protein levels they’ll need in the field. Contact us for more info.)  

Home preparedness is equally important for first responders. While on duty, they need to know that their families have everything they’ll need. Fortunately, Total Prepare offers discounted employee buying programs for many first responders. By using these programs, these workers can ensure that their homes are supplied for emergency situations.

Emergency Volunteer Safety Programs

Canada’s provinces and territories are fortunate to have great volunteer programs in place. Citizens can sign up and receive training which enables them to help in all kinds of emergencies. These organizations will provide much needed manpower in the event of an emergency. In BC, our emergency volunteer programs include:

Search and Rescue

There are approximately 2,500 registered Search and Rescue volunteers in BC.

These volunteers usually search for someone who has gone missing. Searches can be carried out in the wilderness or in and around collapsed buildings, and there are different types of SAR teams. One such example is those specializing in cave or rapid water rescues. You can learn more about what groups are in BC on the BC Search and Rescue Association Website.

The police/RCMP may call on SAR volunteers to search for lost individuals in an emergency.  In some cases, specialized tools and training may be necessary.  SAR volunteers may then be tasked to locate and transport injured persons. They also help to distribute information during evacuations and other critical response activities.

Emergency Communications / PERCS

PERCS stands for the Provincial Emergency Radio Communications Service. Individuals volunteering with this organization are amateur radio operators. They work together with Emergency Management BC to aid in communications during an emergency. They will be a critical resource if there is damage to standard methods of communication.

Emergency Support Services

ESS is a provincial program. Local authorities and/or First Nations governments are usually responsible for their delivery. Their goal is to “meet the basic needs of citizens impacted by disasters by providing short-term support in a compassionate manner.” ESS support is designed to get individuals in need through the first 72 hours of an emergency.

ESS is the responsibility of municipalities and regional districts under the Emergency Program Act. However, they often depend on volunteers for much needed people-power. These volunteers train to:

  • Coordinate the provision of food, clothing, lodging, emotional support, pet care and transportation.
  • Identifying locations for reception centres
  • Working together with local government, businesses, etc.
  • Providing information about the crisis
  • Coordinating other volunteers
  • Family reunification

Most ESS teams work in their local municipalities. When the need arises, there are also mobile teams that travel to other communities on short notice.

Emergency Recovery Resources

After the initial disaster, there are resources in place to help the community regain a sense of normalcy.

Emergency Management BC

EMBC is the ‘big wig’ of emergency preparedness in our province. EMBC employees ensure that all emergency response in BC is done in a coordinated and organized fashion. Some of EMBC’s day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Establishing standard terminology
  • Guiding principles and processes for all stakeholders in the emergency response chain of command

Local governments may become overwhelmed in the event of an emergency. EMBC provincial regional emergency operations centres (PREOCs) then provide support. And this is especially true in large scale emergencies. Emergency management staff make up the PREOCs.  They are trained to help with coordination, planning and logistics.  There are six PREOCs in BC.

Multiple PREOCs may be activated at once. In that event, EMBC can open up its PECC.  PECC stands for Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre. Located in Victoria, the PECC acts as a headquarters and supports and coordinates with the PREOCs.

EMBC staff also do a lot of work educating and encouraging people to be prepared.  Their outreach extends to citizens, businesses and all other organizations. They also lend support to the volunteer services we discussed above. Other areas EMBC is responsible for include: response, planning, training, testing and exercising. It’s a big job!


Emergency preparedness starts at the personal level and works out from there.

Remember it is every individual’s responsibility to do what they can to prepare for an emergency. This alleviates the pressure on our volunteers, first responders and government organizations. Being prepared is the responsibility of all individuals.  Individuals must take ownership for their own safety and well-being because, by doing so, it then ensures that resources can be delivered to where they’re needed most.

The best course of action is to learn your local hazards, get a kit and sign up for emergency alerts. Once you get all of that done, stay tuned for our next post on how to make a family and reunification plan.

Thank you for reading!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author of Tethered and Emergency Preparedness Professional.

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