National Emergency Response System

National Emergency Response System Version PDF (421 KB)

ISBN: 978-1-100-52734-5

Table of contents

Glossary of Terms and Definitions

Source(s): Justice Institute of British Columbia Incident Command System and An Emergency Management Framework for Canada


The continual process of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence, information, and knowledge to allow organizations and individuals to anticipate requirements and to respond effectively.

Consequence management

Measures and activities undertaken to alleviate the damage, loss, hardship and suffering caused by emergencies. It also includes measures to restore essential services, protect public health, and provide emergency relief to affected governments, businesses, and populations.


A social phenomenon that results when a hazard intersects with a vulnerable community in a way that exceeds or overwhelms the community's ability to cope and may cause serious harm to the safety, health, welfare, property or environment of people; may be triggered by a naturally occurring phenomenon which has its origins within the geophysical or biological environment or by human action or error, whether malicious or unintentional, including technological failures, accidents and terrorist acts.


A present or imminent event that requires prompt coordination of actions concerning persons or property to protect the health, safety or welfare of people, or to limit damage to property or the environment.

Emergency Operations Centre

A designated facility established by an agency or jurisdiction to coordinate the overall agency or jurisdictional response and support to an emergency.

Emergency plan

A documented scheme of assigned responsibilities, actions and procedures, required in the event of an emergency. It contains a brief, clear and concise description of the overall emergency organization as well as a designation of responsibilities and procedures (including notifications) involved in coping with any or all aspects of a potential credible emergency.


A potentially damaging physical event, phenomenon or human activity that may cause the loss of life or injury, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.


An occurrence, either human caused or by natural phenomena, that requires action by response personnel to prevent or minimize loss of life or damage to property, environment and reduce economic and social losses.

Non-governmental organization

A non-profit entity that is based on interests of its members, individuals, or institutions and that is not created by a government, but may work cooperatively with government. Such organizations serve a public purpose, not a private benefit. Examples of non-governmental organizations include faith-based charity organizations and the Canadian Red Cross.

Private sector

Organizations and entities that are not part of any governmental structure. Includes for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, formal and informal structures, commerce, and industry, private emergency response organizations, and private voluntary organizations.


The presence of a hazard and an exposure pathway; threats may be natural or human-induced, either accidental or intentional.

1. Introduction

Emergency management in Canada is a shared responsibility, which relies on ongoing cooperation and communication between all levels of government. Within Canada's constitutional framework, the provincial and territorial governments and local authorities provide the first response to the vast majority of emergencies.

More than 90 percent of emergencies in Canada are handled locally or at the provincial/territorial level and do not require direct federal involvement. If an emergency threatens to overwhelm the resources of any individual province/territory, the federal government may intervene at the specific request of the province/territory.

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers responsible for Emergency Management in Canada agreed in January 2005 to "work together to improve and enhance the emergency response framework in order to harmonize the federal system so that it complements each provincial and territorial system". To provide a coordinated strategy in this regard, the National Emergency Response System has been developed by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Response Working Group.

The National Emergency Response System is a component of Canada's emergency response management system and incorporates the principles for emergency management as set out in An Emergency Management Framework for Canada, approved by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

These principles define the key underlying beliefs and goals of emergency management and provide guidance to support the design, implementation and on-going improvement of the frameworks, policy, programs, procedures, guidelines and activities that taken together, comprise the emergency management systems of Canada.

The principles for emergency management are:

At the federal level, under the Emergency Management Act, the Minister of Public Safety is the primary federal Minister responsible for emergency management activities. In support of this mandate, Public Safety Canada has developed the Federal Emergency Response Plan that describes the general responsibilities of federal departments in order to coordinate and harmonize federal departmental response to emergencies.

1.1 Purpose

The National Emergency Response System provides for the harmonization of joint federal, provincial and territorial response to emergencies. It supports and facilitates procurement and logistics coordination between all levels of government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and international stakeholders. Although in most instances it applies to federal support at the request of a province or territory, it can also be used in instances where provinces or territories support federal response to an emergency under federal jurisdiction.

The National Emergency Response System:

1.2 Authorities

Provincial/territorial and federal governments have complementary roles in emergency management, and each jurisdiction has emergency management legislation which details its own particular responsibilities.

1.2.1 Provincial and Territorial

Each province and territory has emergency management legislation. Generally, these acts and regulations set out the common roles of the provincial and territorial ministers, and municipalities that are responsible for dealing with emergency management in each jurisdiction, and specify the extraordinary powers and declarations of emergencies that may be implemented. The provincial and territorial legislation also identifies the extraordinary powers that provincial and territorial authorities may use and the circumstances and safeguards under which those powers may be exercised.

1.2.2 Federal

The Emergency Management Act is the legislative foundation for an integrated approach to federal emergency management activities.

Under the Emergency Management Act:

1.3 Scope

The National Emergency Response System applies to response to domestic emergencies. It describes emergency response interactions and linkages between individual provinces/territories and Public Safety Canada.

Every federal, provincial and territorial government has a responsibility for emergency management and public safety in Canada. This document shall be interpreted in full respect of each government's jurisdiction and shall not replace or violate any event-specific plan and/or areas of responsibility.

1.4 Governance

The federal governance structure parallels or mirrors the structures of most provincial and territorial counterparts. Depending on the scale and nature of the emergency, all or some elements may be activated in each jurisdiction.

1.4.1 Provincial and Territorial

Each province and territory has developed their own governance structure for coordinating the response to emergencies within their jurisdiction.While each province or territory has customized their governance to suit their unique and specific requirements (geographical, cultural, etc.), most have broadly similar organizational structures with a significant degree of commonality among their mechanisms and procedures.

1.4.2 Federal

The federal governance structure for an integrated Government of Canada emergency response includes Committee of Cabinet, Committee of Deputy Ministers and Committee of Assistant Deputy Ministers. The senior official responsible for ensuring an integrated federal emergency response is the Federal Coordinating Officer. This role is assumed by the Deputy Minister, Public Safety Canada, however the responsibility may be delegated depending upon the scope and scale of an emergency.

1.4.3 Intergovernmental

The federal government collaborates with provinces and territories through an annual meeting of Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers responsible for emergency management, and regular meetings at Deputy Minister, senior official and working group levels.

The Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management provides a forum for federal, provincial and territorial discussions on emergency response integration whereby recommendations are formulated and proposed to Deputy Ministers.Working groups are established as required to support the intergovernmental collaboration on issue-specific multi-stakeholder projects.

The Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management directed the formation of a Response working group to design a National Emergency Response System and is responsible for monitoring the success of the project.

Image Description

The figure illustrated delineates the various federal, provincial and territorial operational-level working groups and the three-tiers of emergency management governance to which they directly report.

1.5 Maintenance

Every five years, federal, provincial and territorial governments will collaboratively review the National Emergency Response System to validate that it remains an accurate and relevant document.

2. Roles and Responsibilities

2.1 Provincial and Territorial

Provinces and territories have strategic, operational and tactical responsibilities similar to the federal government with respect to the management of emergency response that occur within their jurisdiction.

2.1.1 Provincial and Territorial Emergency Operations Centres

All provinces and territories maintain an emergency operations centre facility capability. However, the structure of the centres varies considerably from region to region with regards to the following:

Provincial and territorial Emergency Operations Centres are of prime importance to the effectiveness of the National Emergency Response System intergovernmental flow of information.

2.1.2 Emergency Management Organizations

Emergency Management Organizations have been established in every province and territory and are, among others, responsible for coordinating a comprehensive, cross-government, all hazards approach to managing emergencies whenever it applies. Officials within these organizations maintain constant contact with the Government Operations Centre during an emergency as required to facilitate the timely exchange of information.

2.2 Federal

Federal departments frequently manage emergencies or provide support to a province or territory for events related to their specific mandate, within their own authorities and without requiring coordination from Public Safety Canada. However, in the event that a province or a territory requests federal emergency assistance, Public Safety Canada coordinates the emergency management response and the National Emergency Response System forms the basis for that coordination.

2.2.1 Regional Offices

Public Safety Canada Regional Offices interface with provincial and territorial Emergency Management Organizations, public sector and non-governmental organizations as well as link operational and regional activities to the strategic/federal level within the Government Operations Centre. During an emergency, the Regional Office is the primary point of contact for the provincial or territorial Emergency Operations Centre and is responsible for the coordination of requests for federal emergency assistance. See Annex A for more information on Requests for Federal Emergency Assistance.

2.2.2 Government Operations Centre

The Government Operations Centre is housed within Public Safety Canada headquarters and operates 24/7 to provide strategic-level coordination on behalf of the Government of Canada in response to an emerging or occurring event affecting the national interest. The Government Operations Centre is the federal government's single point of contact in emergencies, supports provincial and local authorities, and coordinates horizontally with other federal government departments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and allied governments.

Federal departmental Emergency Operations Centers support their respective departmental mandates and contribute to the integrated Government of Canada response to emergencies through the Government Operations Centre.

2.3 Intergovernmental

In order to clarify the decision making process, each province and territory, together with their federal regional counterpart, has developed Standard Operations Procedures (see Annex B for Standard Operating Procedures Template). These procedures identify specific activities, tasks, steps and decisions that deliver a collaborative provincial, territorial and federal response to emergencies.

The Standard Operating Procedures reflect the unique governance structure of each province and territory by defining the linkages between them and Public Safety Canada. They also identify intergovernmental interactions in areas of emergency response activities and facilitate response-oriented coordination and decision making.

3. Response Activities

As agreed upon by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial ResponseWorking Group, the following key activities are common to all jurisdictions and identify fundamental linkages and functions that are complimentary to federal, provincial and territorial emergency response mechanisms:

The linkages and interfaces between the federal system and each of the provincial and territorial systems is the critical aspect that enables the National Emergency Response System. The primary means of linking these systems are through the positioning of the Public Safety Regional Office representatives with provincial or territorial officials, as well as with regional federal departments and coordinating groups. The linking of public communications activities is managed by the provinces and territories and Public Safety Canada's Communications Directorate, with the support of regional communicators in the regions.

The Regional Office provides appropriate representation in the provincial and territorial Emergency Operations Centre as required. The responsibilities of the Regional Office are to facilitate the exchange of information between the provincial and territorial Emergency Operations Centre, the Federal Coordination Group and the Government Operations Centre, as well as to coordinate provincial and territorial requests for federal emergency assistance.

Each jurisdiction has emergency management legislation which details its own particular responsibilities. A federal government institution may not respond to a provincial/territorial emergency unless the provincial/territorial government requests assistance or there is an agreement in place that requires or permits the assistance.

Reporting and exchange of information between the Government Operations Centre, federal Emergency Operations Centres and provincial and territorial Emergency Operations Centres must be synchronized to ensure real-time flow and availability of information.

Usually the province or territory sets the business cycle based on the cycle of response and assessment necessary to respond to the specific type and scope of event they are dealing with. The business cycle must take into account a number of factors including time zones and the affected local governments' situation. Information provided must be validated or clearly marked as unconfirmed.

3.1 Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is the review of incoming reporting of an incident whereby awareness is developed preparatory to providing information on the event as it is unfolding. These materials are reviewed and incorporated into situation reports for decision making purposes. The situational awareness function builds on incident detection and screening processes. It includes some or all of the following activities:

Information should flow freely between governments and stakeholders except when an event or particular information product has national security implications or other constraints which may limit distribution. All provinces and territories regularly share event information with their provincial and federal partners through a variety of communication methods (i.e. email, telephone, fax) and/or situation reports. The manner in which this information is communicated largely depends on the urgent nature and/or complexity of the incident.

3.2 Risk Assessment/Impact Analysis

Risk assessment and impact analysis may be done separately or jointly by federal, provincial or territorial officials, however each jurisdiction retains the right to determine how, when and by what mechanism(s) information is communicated.

The intent of risk assessment is to determine the probability and impact of an event on pre-determined segments, i.e. public, environment, critical infrastructure and the economy. Information distribution decisions are determined by event type and scope as well as standard operating procedures. Based on the specifics of the situation, additional products may be recommended for development in order to identify which stakeholders need to be informed and involved in responding to an event, and to highlight any issues for senior management.

Risk assessment also supports the planning process by recommending whether a specific plan is required and the likely scope of response required. The risk assessment function includes some or all of the following activities:

While the process of initiating risk assessment and determining impact analysis are unique to each province and territory, the end products are the result of coordinated efforts between governments. The degree of risk assessment and involvement of external stakeholders is influenced by the type of event and respective provincial or territorial emergency management procedures.

3.3 Planning

Planning determines the objectives necessary to eliminate or mitigate risks and assists in the development of event-specific response and courses of action in order to respond to an emergency.

Provinces and territories have all hazards plans for dealing with emergencies; many also have event-specific plans. Plans are developed in accordance with each jurisdiction's acts and regulations in line with emergency management principles. The plans are intended to guide the actions and decisions in a provincial or territoriallevel response or in support of a municipal response – where most emergencies occur and where potential consequences are first manifested.

Federal departments and agencies are responsible for developing emergency management plans in relation to risks in their areas of accountability. In most cases, departments manage emergencies with event-specific or departmental plans based on their own authorities. These plans may be implemented during an integrated Government of Canada response; however, they should incorporate the coordinating structures, processes and protocols prescribed in the Federal Emergency Response Plan in order to contribute to a harmonized federal response, while still maintaining respective departmental authorities and responsibilities. The Federal Emergency Response Plan is used in conjunction with the response efforts of provinces and territories, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

The planning function includes the following activities:

3.3.1 Contingency Plans

Contingency plans are initiated when an event is forecasted weeks, months or years in advance (i.e. 2010 Winter Olympics), or when an event can be reasonably expected to occur (i.e. floods, hurricanes, forest fires). They provide direction for readiness activities that are required to enable the necessary level of operational preparedness.

Improved coordination between governments in the development of contingency plans facilitates emergency response, reduces confusion and potential conflicts, and avoids ineffective deployment of material, personnel, resources and misdirection of effort.

3.3.2 Action Plans

This type of planning is initiated when an emergency occurs with little or no warning. Action planning occurs after a contingency plan has been activated and specific problems need to be addressed as issues arise.

Action plans are developed based on the output of the situational awareness and risk assessment functions, as well as planning guidance. Action planning establishes objectives and tracks the tasks to ensure that objectives are met.

Coordination of action planning for joint federal, provincial and territorial emergency response is initiated though the Public Safety Canada Regional Director in concert with the Government Operations Centre and the provincial and territorial Emergency Operations Centre.

3.4 Logistics

The logistics function enables the provision of required personnel, goods and/or transportation to one or more regions affected by an emergency.

In the event of a joint federal, provincial and territorial response or a request for emergency assistance, multiple organizations including governments at all levels may require support to move personnel or material into an affected region. In doing so, the National Emergency Response System will support and facilitate procurement and logistics coordination.

Logistic activities would include some or all of the following:

In general, the mobilization and coordination for the provision of requested resources and capabilities will be solicited from, and in collaboration with, the following organizations:

A key goal of the logistics function is to eliminate duplication of effort by various organizations (both government and non-government) at the strategic level.

3.5 Public Communications

Well coordinated and effective public communication is an integral part of emergency management. The dissemination of clear, factual and consistent information, corresponding with the broad information demands of various audiences, can assist in minimizing the threat to those Canadians most likely affected by the emergency, and can help to instill confidence in the public of the response to the emergency by all levels of government.

Public communications activities during a joint emergency response should be coordinated among the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and developed in close cooperation with stakeholders.

The application of risk communications principles to the public communications activities, including the two-way exchange of information between all levels of government and their stakeholders, can assist in preventing ineffective, and potentially dangerous public responses to an emergency.

Functions of this coordination include (where possible):

Annex A: Request for Federal Emergency Assistance

A request for assistance is the formalization of the need, at the request of a province or territory, for the federal government to provide support towards emergency response efforts.

A provincial or territorial request for assistance during an emergency specifies the additional support or resources that the affected region determines are required for a successful emergency response.

The Public Safety Regional Director in each region is the primary agent responsible for the receipt of provincial and/or territorial requests for assistance. The Regional Director is required to support the provinces and territories with these requests as well as liaise with federal coordinating committees and the Government Operations Centre to expedite federal response.

When a province or territory determines that there is a need for federal government support, the process is initiated by a verbal request and may be followed by a formal letter between Ministers. Should a letter be required (see page 14 for sample), the federal government will inform the province or territory and coordinate efforts through the Public Safety Regional Director.

Sample Request for Federal Emergency Assistance Letter

Province/Territory of XXXXXXXX

To: The Honourable XX, Minister of XX – Government of Canada

A XXXX situation requiring an emergency response has developed (or is considered as likely to occur) in INSERT AFFECTED AREA. I have been informed, by responsible persons, that the current situation requires resources beyond those available to the province or department/agency.

The Province or department/agency XXXX has identified the following critical requirements for which we are seeking federal assistance:

Regional Input Required Here On Details Regarding The Type Of Assistance Required

Now therefore I, XXXX, title XXXX, do request that you provide federal resources in support of current and ongoing emergency response efforts to this event.

Dated at ............, this ............ day of ............,





Annex B: Standard Operating Procedures Template

Province Or Territory Of (indicate name) And Public Safety Canada Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

Table of Contents

1. Purpose

2. Scope

3. Definitions

4. Procedure Description

1. Purpose (this should be consistent for all provinces/territories)

The purpose of this standard operating procedure is to identify the information sharing process and the linkages that exist between the (province or territory) of_____________ and their federal regional Public Safety Canada counterpart. These procedures will identify how the five common activities are operationalized between _______(provincial or territorial) and federal jurisdictions to ensure the delivery of a collaborative response to emergencies when applicable.

2. Scope (this should be consistent for all provinces/territories)

Each provincial, territorial and federal government has a responsibility for emergency management and public safety in Canada. These procedures shall therefore be interpreted in full respect of each government's jurisdiction.

3. Definitions (these should include terms referenced in your SOP that require further detail).

Mutual Aid Agreements (as an example)

Addresses provisions for requesting emergency assistance from (or providing emergency assistance to) other provinces and territories to which the province and territory is party.

Mitigation (as an example)

Sustained actions taken to eliminate or reduce risks and impacts posed by hazards well before an emergency or disaster occurs; mitigation activities may be included as part of a prevention strategy.

4. Procedure Description

Should an incident occur, the following five common response activities will be executed as follows:

Situational Awareness

______________(Provincial or Territorial)/Federal Linkage

Describe the business cycle and common linkages that occur between the province and the Public Safety Canada Regional Office in order to ensure effective monitoring and information gathering. Information sharing mechanisms/products as well as whom (i.e. which stakeholders) they are shared with should also be indicated in this section.

Risk Assessment

______________(Provincial or Territorial)/Federal Linkage

Describe the business cycle and common linkages that occur between the province and the Public Safety Canada Regional Office in order to determine the actual or potential impacts of the incident (including vulnerabilities, trigger points and mitigating factors). Information sharing mechanisms/products as well as whom (i.e. which stakeholders) they are shared with should also be indicated in this section.


______________(Provincial or Territorial)/Federal Linkage

Describe the business cycle and common linkages that occur between the province and the Public Safety Canada Regional Office in order to determine the objectives necessary to eliminate or mitigate risks and assist in the development of incident-specific courses of action. The coordination efforts that are carried out in the development of these plans as well as what information sharing mechanisms/products and whom (i.e. which stakeholders) they are shared with should also be described in this section.


______________(Provincial or Territorial)/Federal Linkage

Describe the business cycle and common linkages that occur between the province and the Public Safety Canada Regional Office to enable the provision of required personnel, goods and/or transportation to the incident site. Mechanisms put in place to track resources and assess costs should also be described as well as the role of all stakeholders involved.

Public Communications

______________(Provincial or Territorial)/Federal Linkage

Describe the business cycle and common linkages that occur between the province and the Public Safety Canada Regional Office in order to ensure the clear, factual and consistent dissemination of information for public response during an emergency. Functions of a coordinated communication strategy between all levels of government and non-government stakeholders as well as a description of the information sharing products and whom they are communicated with should also be indicated in this section.

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