Having been away for a few weeks, I missed this article at publishing. I was handed the print copy, because right next to it was another article that holds great interest for me, President Trump and his economic chaos created at the G7. (Thats another story, another blog.)
The article comes from the Toronto Star Chief Investigative Reporter Kevin Donovan and is titled “Agency report on “toxic” workplace kept secret”. (You can read it here: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/06/02/secret-report-on-toxic-workplace-at-ontarios-fire-and-emergency-agency-leads-to-change-but-report-remains-secret.html)
Normally I might not have paid any attention, until the words “Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management” jumped out at me from the middle of of the middle column on the front page article. It seems, according to Donovan, that the merger between Emergency Management Ontario and the Office of the Fire Marshall, designed to streamline services and make Ontarians safer and better prepared has had the opposite effect.
The article sites complaints of workplace bias, harassment and the existence of a “toxic workplace and poor management” at OFMEM. The two agencies didn’t truly merge; Emergency Management Ontario was folded into the Office of the Fire Marshall making it in essence a sub-agency. It would seem from reading the article this is where the troubles begin.
The blending saw a decrease of staff, primarily on the EMO side the agency, and then came the complaints of poor management and toxic environment, though Donovan could not get specific complaints as the agency cites HR privacy concerns. Investigations have taken place according to the article, but specifics cannot be mentioned for the same HR concerns. However, there have been changes they say for the better, though Donovan has been told by “sources” not to any real significance.
There have been many changes of management at the EMO side of the agency during the last five years, since the merge. According to Donovan, Provincial Auditor Bonnie Lysyk reported that the agency has been “continually weakened” in preparedness for disaster. This is due to ever decreasing funding to the EMO component, and four changes in bosses, and decreasing staffing.
I’ll save you readers the deeper details; you can read the article yourself, posted above. The situation does give me great concern for the public’s state of readiness. If the Provincial agency responsible for preparedness, response and recovery to disaster of any type is inadequately prepared, how can we expect the people, organisations and businesses of the Province to be prepared to any extent? I don’t think we can, at least not by putting faith in government.
This should be the siren call to all Ontario; Find Your Own Resilience! Generate Your Own Preparedness! Plan Your Own Response and Recovery!
I’ll say I had some doubts when I heard of the merger five years ago. I shook my head, asked myself what are they thinking. I did think at the time, that if handled properly this could work well enough. After all, in smaller communities with tighter budgets and resources, Emergency Management if almost always under the local Fire Service’s mandate. And in those communities it seems to work very well. On a provincial level, I had and have a hard time seeing it work.
During the course of an Emergency or Disaster, the Fire Services have very specialized tasks that they must attend to first and foremost. Therefore, I believe logically, they haven't the manpower to also be overseeing the also specialized duties of an Emergency Management Agency, and those EM tasks may fall to the back burner until the crisis is over, providing and opportunity life risk situations to the populace. Further, with there seemingly some infighting among the two aspects of the agency, poor communication and poor management of a situation is really very likely.
These two agencies are critical to the safety of Ontarians. They are equal in their importance, and the budgeting and management of should reflect that. While it may have appeared to the sitting Provincial Government of the time to be a good and money saving idea, its showing it was anything but. Perhaps our new Premier will recognize this and rectify the situation. But it will take time, and it still leaves a substandard level of readiness.
There is a sound way to correct this quickly: every organisation, corporation, big business to small business and every resident of Ontario must become more responsible for their own preparedness. In short, we all need to get planning to Prevent what we can, Mitigate the effects of what we can’t prevent, ensure we have adequate Response and Recovery programs, and be ready to Test those plans and make Revisions as situations change. That is what the TEN33 Inc. RCI4Me initiative, conceived and announced in May of 2014 was and still is about. (You can read the release here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/10152473555514343/)
Emergency Preparedness isn’t just a government hallmark and concern; it’s for all of us. During a state of Emergency, government agencies are going to be inundated with response requests and responsibilities, and they aren’t necessarily going to be able to jump into some for of action immediately to save one or two people. They are going to be the busiest people, and the most stressed. We will need to rely on ourselves to get through at least part of any situation.
Take a look at what risks you could face in your community. Consider them carefully and decide on those most likely to happen and with the greatest impact. Those are the things you want to make plans for, and make them fairly comprehensive. Discover the best ways to evacuate your home in a number of situations, and do the same for evacuation from your neighbourhood and community. Make plans on where to go, where to meet, where you might stay during a period of evacuation. Make communications plans; how are you going to let family and friends know you are safe, or if you are in need of assistance so they can call responders for you. Keep copies of critical documents in your home, and the originals in a safety deposit box. Have cash on hand, as there is always the possibility electronic means of payment will not be working. (See this article for personal planning information:
Businesses are going to have to do more than just that mentioned in the paragraph above. Business has to think about staff, community, critical operations to recover and the timeframes involved plus so much more. For business and organizations I would recommend you connect with a consultant in the field. Not just for Business Continuity and recovery of data, but also for physical aspects, like Shelter in Place, Facility Evacuation, Return to Work Programming and more. There are costs involved, yes. But those cost will be cheeper than those you’ll face trying to plan, respond and recover at the time of crisis, to a factor near 10 times that of pre-planning. Those costs could mean the difference between business survival and collapse.
In the end readers, the OFMEM is a vital agency, but is in a somewhat dark space currently. Its up to us to take up the task of preparedness until things are corrected. I’d love to see the two agencies returned to individual status and with budgets better representing their importance. EMO need more recognition as a vital service, and is deserving of a larger budget, and better staffing.
Until that happens readers, learn about the RCI4Me program at the link above and join the movement. Be prepared. Knowledge is Resilience.
Thanks to Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star for his insightful reporting.
Greg Long, President;
TEN33 Inc. Consulting in Emergency Management