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B.C. supports implementation of emergency management act, keeping people safe

December 15, 2023 at 10:31 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

Under B.C.’s new emergency management legislation, people and communities are safer and better prepared for the increasingly severe emergencies and disasters the province is experiencing due to climate change.

The work of an expert task force on emergencies is also well underway and will reinforce the legislation by providing action-oriented recommendations in advance of the 2024 wildfire season. B.C.’s newly enshrined Emergency and Disaster Management Act is focused on disaster risk reduction and enhanced emergency preparedness, and recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ inherent rights of self-government in relation to emergency management.

“In B.C., summers are getting hotter, winters are getting more unpredictable, and flooding is becoming more severe. The new Emergency and Disaster Management Act places a greater emphasis on mitigating the impacts of emergencies before they happen,” said George Heyman, acting Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We’re working with First Nations and local governments to ensure our collective readiness against climate-related hazards, but time is of the essence. That’s why we’re providing funding to help communities put Indigenous engagement requirements in the act into motion.”

The new act brings in a number of changes that make it the most comprehensive and forward-looking emergency management legislation in Canada. Some of these changes include:

  • increasing emphasis on disaster risk reduction and shifting from a response focus to all four phases of emergency management (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery);
  • implementing a need for climate-informed risk assessments by provincial ministries, local authorities, critical infrastructure owners and public-sector agencies to better understand and prepare for the hazards communities face;
  • recognizing Indigenous Peoples as true partners in emergency management and establishing a framework for agreements between First Nations and other authorities that can help advance shared decision-making and co-ordination.

By working together, communities can be better prepared for emergencies and can more effectively co-ordinate response efforts. Guided by the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, the new Emergency and Disaster Management Act includes engagement provisions that require municipalities and regional districts to consult and co-operate with Indigenous governing bodies and incorporate Indigenous knowledge and cultural safety across emergency management practices.

To support this work, the Province is providing $18 million to communities to consult and collaborate in advance of emergency events. The funding is intended to:

  • support relationship-building across jurisdictions through consultation and co-operation with Indigenous governing bodies;
  • ensure the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and cultural safety across emergency management practices;
  • support policy improvements that reflect the lived experience of Indigenous Peoples and;
  • address the disproportionate effects on Indigenous Peoples during emergency events.

Under the act, municipalities and regional districts must include available Indigenous knowledge in their approach to emergency management, ensuring this knowledge contributes to actions that are taken before, during and after emergencies.

“It is critical for local governments and authorities to fully understand our inherent rights and jurisdiction in relation to emergency management,” said Robert Phillips, First Nations Summit political executive. “We welcome this new funding to support First Nations and local authorities’ engagement as an essential and necessary component to the implementation of the act. First Nations governments are in full support of building strong relationships and open communication regarding emergency planning, prevention, response and recovery, with their neighbouring authorities and governments.”

Indigenous knowledge is based on thousands of years of accumulated experiences and can provide expertise and insight into how to reduce disaster risk and manage emergencies. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has recognized that local Indigenous knowledge is a valuable contributor to planning and decision-making in emergency management.

“With the climate crisis rapidly escalating, it is critical that First Nations are supported to be full partners in decision-making about our territories,” said Chief Don Tom, vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “Engagement on legislation and regulations is incredibly expensive and requires legal and technical capacity, and the funding announced today will help us participate.”

Terry Teegee, Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations, said: “The Chiefs in B.C. recently supported the First Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan that guides priorities for improving emergency management jurisdiction and services by First Nations. B.C. and local governments must respect and implement First Nations priorities, laws and policies. The climate emergency affects First Nations disproportionately more than any other people and we have only seen inadequate investments in all pillars of emergency management. All new regulations require First Nations to co-draft, co-develop and reach consent. We applaud the Province’s efforts to improve emergency management in B.C.”

Public engagement is underway on future regulations, including for local authorities and post-emergency financial assistance. People are encouraged to share their experiences and feedback on Disaster Financial Assistance to help inform new regulations for people recovering from a disaster. Engagement is open until Jan. 31, 2024.

Once local authority regulations are developed and in force, municipalities and regional districts will be required to include available Indigenous knowledge in risk assessments and emergency management plans. Plans will identify hazards and potential consequences, including consequences to sites of heritage value, and include a consideration of people disproportionately impacted by the effects of emergencies.

All First Nations in B.C. are eligible to apply for the $200-million Declaration Act Engagement Fund. This fund is helping enhance capacity for First Nations to consult and co-operate with the Province on the implementation of the Declaration Act Action Plan, as well as the development and alignment of provincial laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The Declaration Act Engagement Fund is creating flexibility for First Nations to engage with the Province on areas of interest in ways that respond to their unique needs and priorities, including emergency management preparedness,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “The new Emergency and Disaster Management Act responds to a key action item in our Declaration Act Action Plan and supports the work being done together to implement the Declaration Act.”

Communities can also access funding for preparing for and mitigating emergencies and climate-related disasters through the $369-million Community Emergency Preparedness Fund (CEPF), which has six funding streams. The next application deadline for the Disaster Risk Reduction-Climate Adaptation funding stream is March 28, 2024.

“Improving collaboration and co-operation between First Nations and local governments will strengthen the ability of all communities to prepare for emergencies and work together when they arise,” said Trish Mandewo, president, Union of British Columbia Municipalities. “The consultation requirement placed upon local governments through the recent emergency management legislation is as considerable as it is important. The funding provided through this initiative and the CEPF program will assist local government engagement with neighbouring First Nations. Local governments look forward to receiving guidance from the Province on the details necessary to fulfil this requirement.”

The legislation follows global best practices for disaster risk reduction and incorporates all four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Quick Facts:

  • The Emergency and Disaster Management Act replaces the Emergency Program Act, which hadn’t been substantially updated since 1993.
  • Modernized emergency management regulations to complement the act are being introduced in a phased approach.
  • The regulations, including local authority and post-emergency financial assistance, will be developed in consultation and co-operation with First Nations.
  • In addition to continuous improvements to emergency management, the act will be reviewed within five years.
  • A 14-member task force composed of experts in emergency and wildfire management has been appointed by Premier David Eby and is working on providing recommendations on enhancing emergency preparedness and response in advance of the 2024 wildfire season.

Learn More:

For guidelines on the Indigenous Engagement Requirements funding program, visit:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-management/local-emergency-programs/financial/ierfp

To learn more about the Emergency and Disaster Management Act, including details about phased implementation, visit:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/EmergencyManagementAct

To participate in the public engagement on emergency management regulations, visit:
https://engage.gov.bc.ca/emergencymanagementregulations

To learn more about B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, visit:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/indigenous-people/new-relationship/united-nations-declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples

For more information about B.C. legislation, visit: https://workingforyou.gov.bc.ca/legislation

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