Emergency Management in the Arctic: Preparing for a Complex New Frontier

As development progresses in the Arctic, more and more challenges are arising. In a press release from the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security program (found online at www.eurekalert.org), experts offer their recommendations for emergency management in the region.

“Despite the best efforts of volunteers, who form the backbone of emergency response in the North, there are still deficiencies in the system caused by a lack of tools, plans and training that are putting lives at risk. This risk and severity of emergencies will only increase with climate change and intensified activity in the region,” says Sara French, director of the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security program, a collaboration between the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Experts put their recommendations together in a report released this week, entitled “National Roundtable on Arctic Emergency Preparedness: Report on Proceedings.” This comes after a series of hearings took place in Canada’s three northern territories, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon, culminating in a national roundtable.

According to the report, inadequate risk assessment, planning and training are among the challenges being faced in the Arctic. Combined with the difficulties of harsh weather, vast distances, arduous transportation and patchy communications – it’s clear that emergency management should be a major priority in the region.

The seven points listed below are considered the experts’ top recommendations. They are listed as they appeared in the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security program press release.

1. National authorities should place needs of northern residents at the forefront in policies discussions at the national level, as opposed to an exclusive focus on visitors to the region.

2. Territorial governments should make available and encourage skill development among community members and volunteer responders, including: traditional and local knowledge for newcomers; basic and wilderness first aid; CPR, including the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs); radio operator training; Incident Command System (ICS); Emergency Operating Centre (EOC); Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR); GPS, as well as how to use a map and compass; boat operator license; snowmobile and ATV operator training; small engine mechanics; technical rescue skills: swift water rescue, crevasse rescue, avalanche rescue; and environmental response training. To make this training possible, the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program should be reinstated to full capacity.

3. Training at all levels should follow a "two-way knowledge exchange" model, where there is not just training provided by official organizations to community members and volunteers, but there are also opportunities for traditional and local knowledge holders to share their knowledge with territorial and federal level officials. In addition, training programs should be reflective of northern realities and offered in Indigenous languages.

4. All communities should complete emergency plans based on the unique situation of their community. However, these plans should be more than a "book on the shelf", funding should be provided for their regular review and updating, including training new personnel on how to use the plan.

5. The call from the Government of the Northwest Territories, which was endorsed by the regional roundtable held in that territory, to place some federal search and rescue assets in Yellowknife closer to the communities that they serve should be answered. The federal government should also provide for adequate manpower for the aircrafts already based in the territory.

6. Territorial and First Nations governments should make SPOT or other devices readily available to community members, building on the program in Nunavut. These should ideally be two-way devices.

7. Cross-border initiatives between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America should be considered and existing cooperative arrangements between sub-state actors, such as the State of Alaska and the Territory of Yukon supported. To this end, Canada and the United States should fully explore setting up a Canada/US Coast Guard Forum for the Arctic.


To download the full report, click here: http://www.gordonfoundation.ca/publication/725

For the EurekAlert press release, click here: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-03/tca-emi032614.php