A State of Local Emergency

On Monday, September 10, 2012, a massive cold front swept across Alberta from the southwest to the northeast, plunging communities into darkness and sending thousands of residents seeking safety while leaving behind a path of destruction. Winds exceeding 100 km/hr fueled two huge grass fires just west of Lethbridge – States of Emergency – was declared in Hanna, Lethbridge County, Coalhurst, and Milk River. The Globe and Mail reported: “More than 3,500 people have been evacuated, at least one building has been destroyed, and local states of emergency have been declared in several southern Alberta communities.”

The majority of us catch these dramatic news snippets with little understanding or no understanding of what it means to be in a ‘state of local emergency.’ Declared by a government during times of natural, man-made disaster, or even civil unrest, a ‘state of emergency’ suspends some normal everyday rights taken for granted, even in some cases if those everyday rights and freedoms are guaranteed under a constitution. In Canada, at the federal government level, the Government of Canada is authorized to invoke some exceptional powers to deal with incident-specific emergencies, such as: natural disasters, major accidents, security threats, and violence that threatens the security of Canada. The Emergencies Act (replaced the War Measures Act) grants the Government of Canada this authority subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and any declaration made by the government must be reviewed by Parliament.

In addition to federal legislation, emergency legislation also exists at the provincial and municipal levels. In Alberta, the provincial legislation is the Emergency Management Act. This provincial legislation authorizes the Minister of Municipal Affairs to declare states of emergency and with some special powers to deal with such emergencies. Even more interesting, is the Emergency Management Act directs all municipalities to be responsible for the direction and control of any emergency response to states of local emergency.

Sections 11 and 24 of the Emergency Measures Act mandates local authorities to be responsible at all times for the direction and control of the local emergency response. The local authorities must prepare and approve all emergency plans and programs and possess the same authority granted to the Province in dealing with emergencies within the boundaries of their municipality.

The Municipality District of Rocky View No. 44 (currently known as Rocky View County) adopted the Municipal Disaster Services Bylaw (C-6009-2004) on June 14, 2005. This bylaw authorizes Council or designated officials to declare a State of Local Emergency and establishes a Disaster Services Committee. The Disaster Services Committee is to advise Council on the development of emergency plans and programs. The Disaster Services Committee (currently known as the Emergency Management Committee) consists of the Reeve and Deputy Reeve – appointed annually – and the Chief Administration Officer, all Municipal District Directors, and any other Municipal District employees appointed by the Committee at the discretion of the Director of Disaster Services and/or the Chief Administration Officer.

Note despite there being an established Municipal Disaster Services Agency, which is authorized to act as Council’s agent in carrying out Council’s obligations under the bylaw, Council is responsible to ensure that all emergency plans and programs have been prepared and that the necessary resources are available to address potential emergencies or disasters that may occur within Rocky View County.

The Municipal Emergency Plan is an emergency plan, approved by Council, to coordinate a response to an emergency or disaster. Once a ‘state of local emergency’ is declared by Council, the Reeve or Deputy Reeve must notify the public of the location and nature of the emergency, notify Emergency Management and Alberta Disaster Services, and the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

The declaration of a ‘state of local emergency” authorizes the local authority, specifically the Director of Disaster Services, to take all necessary steps and actions to invoke the Municipal Emergency Plan and grants the local authority some exceptional powers to deal with property and people.

Dealing with property, the Director is authorized to acquire or utilize any real or personal property deemed necessary to combat the emergency and has the right to use such property, resource, or equipment for the duration of the ‘state of local emergency’. In addition, the Director has the authority to procure and fix prices for food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical supplies, or other essential supplies.

The Director is authorized to control or restrict travel within the Municipality and order evacuations of people, livestock, and personal property from any area of the Municipality. Furthermore, the Director has the authority to conscript persons to render aid in dealing with the emergency.

The Director also has the authority to authorize any person to enter any building or land, without a warrant and to cause the demolition of or the removal of trees, crops and structures in order to reach the scene of a disaster.

The Emergency Management Committee (formerly known as the Disaster Service Committee) has the mandate to perform the role and functions outlined in the Municipal Disaster Services Bylaw (C-6009-2004) and the Emergency Management Act of Alberta (2011). The Emergency Management Committee is required to review the Municipal Emergency Plan and advise Council on its status at least once a year; to train and test the interoperability of all the functional areas responsible for and the resources required to support the Municipality in responding to an emergency. The Emergency Management Committee is supposed to meet approximately five times each year, for approximately ten hours, to ensure the County is in a sufficient state of preparedness to respond to an emergency.

While many residents of Rocky View County may never experience first-hand a ‘state of local emergency’ it is certainly vital and important that the Emergency Management Committee keeps the Municipal Emergency Plan current, as our communities are certainly not immune to natural or manmade disasters:

“State of Local Emergency Declared. Rocky View to Declare a Level 3 State of Emergency.
Chief West advised that due to the continuing rainfall and possible flooding in the Bragg Creek Area, the MD of Rocky View will be setting up an Emergency Operations Centre in the MD of Rocky View’s Committee Room.”
– Rocky View Council Meeting Minutes (June 2005)