It’s been 26 years since the N.W.T. government reviewed its Civil Emergency Measures Act. Now it’s seeking input from the public to better prepare for emergencies.
“Wildfire and flooding are our two biggest hazards,” says Tom Williams, deputy minister for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
Williams's department is in the process of updating the emergency measures act. He admits one of the challenges is that these emergencies don't happen often.
"So If we could develop scenarios, how do we react to do emergency situations, how departments respond. I think it's going to go a long ways in terms of a quicker response time, getting better cooperation and communication out to the public."
There have been two states of emergency in the N.W.T. in recent memory.
In 1995, wildfires forced the evacuation of over 1,000 people from Norman Wells and Tulita.
In 1998, fires forced about 200 people out of the area around Tibbitt Lake near Yellowknife.
Williams says the current legislation for responding to emergencies is cumbersome.
For example, it’s up to the territorial minister to appoint one person in charge of planning an emergency response.
In a discussion paper that reviews the act and proposed changes, the department says that causes ambiguity about who’s responsible for organizing what.
The government proposes creating an Emergency Management Organization, along the lines of similar organizations already created in eight provinces.
Williams says that would allow for a more comprehensive approach to emergencies.
He says planning will result in playbooks for how to deal with various situations.
“What each department's responsibility is when they come to the table? How do we communicate to the public? How do we get messaging out? I think it'll be a huge improvement.”
Williams says a “systems approach” will be faster and more effective.
“It's not saying things didn't work well, but that's all because of great collaboration between departments."
The government is inviting public input on the process.
Williams says officials will accept comments that arrive after the current deadline of Friday, August 15.