New bill aims to clarify roles, plans for major Alberta municipal emergencies

The Alberta government introduced draft legislation Tuesday to better clarify the roles of municipal staff and elected officials during an emergency like a wildfire, flood or tornado.

Changes sought in response to reviews of 2013 floods plus Slave Lake and Fort McMurray wildfires

Heat waves are seen as cars and trucks try and get past a wild fire 16 kilometres south of Fort McMurray on Highway 63 in May 2016. The Alberta government is proposing new legislation to improve how municipalities prepare and respond to emergencies like wildfires. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Alberta government introduced draft legislation Tuesday to better clarify the roles of municipal staff and elected officials during an emergency like a wildfire, flood or tornado.  

Bill 8, the Emergency Management Amendment Act, is based on reviews of the response to the 2013 southern Alberta floods, and the wildfires in Slave Lake and Fort McMurray.

"One of the most important things that this bill will allow us to do is create a new regulation that will give clear direction on emergency management practices for municipalities," said Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson. 

The government intends to put the bill out for public consultation this summer, before debating it in the legislature this fall.  

Officials from Municipal Affairs plan to ask for feedback from municipalities, First Nations, Métis settlements and first responders.

The new local authority emergency management regulation created under the bill would clarify municipal roles and responsibilities, and ensure participants have the training they need.

It would also make it mandatory for municipalities to set up an incident command system during an emergency.

Provincial officials want to make sure every municipality has someone designated and trained to act as a director of emergency management in the case of an emergency.

Mandatory training for elected officials

Elected officials would be required to undergo training so they understand what their role is in an emergency.

"We are committed to making sure that if a disaster strikes, everyone involved knows what their role is, how work needs to be done," Anderson said. "I truly believe that Bill 8 will result in a safer, more prepared and a more resilient Alberta."

The regulation will lay out details for what is required in a viable emergency plan. About a dozen municipalities have plans that fall short of government expectations, but the majority — 80 per cent — are in full compliance.

The bill also clarifies the existing provision that responders and municipalities are not liable for what happens to people who refuse to abide by mandatory evacuation orders.

It also clarifies rules around dispute resolution if someone's property is damaged in the course of dealing with an emergency.

Tom Samson, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, noted that Alberta has had three of Canada's four worst disasters. He said the new bill is the next step in preparation for the province's emergency responders. 

"We're not behind, we're actually surging forward," Samson said. 

Anderson said the province already has courses available for people to take, either online or in person.