As the floodwater in B.C.’s interior recede, critical infrastructure (CI) providers, like utilities and highways, are tackling the hard work of restoration and repair. Disruption to CI during an emergency can be catastrophic—lives can be lost, economies can tank, and public confidence can tumble. Suffice it to say, CI is critical to the functioning of our society. How it is impacted during and after an incident affect recovery and the long-term consequences in the community.
But what is CI, and how can it endure and function during, and after an emergency event?
Public Safety Canada defines critical infrastructure as the “processes, systems, facilities, technologies, networks, assets and services essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of government.” CI can be stand-alone, or cross provincial or national borders.
10 sectors of critical infrastructure, have been identified by Public Safety Canada. Provincial, as well as Local Authorities, are aware of the owners and operators of CI in their territory. This is because, long before an incident occurs, CI operators work with governments to create and test emergency plans to ensure adequate response procedures and business continuity practices are in place, to deal with unforeseen disruptions.
CI owners and operators sit on government planning committees, participate in pre-incident coordination, and have a crucial role in response activities. Further, legislative and regulatory requirements prescribe a framework within which CI must plan and prepare for emergencies. This is accomplished through the development, maintenance and testing of internal emergency management programs that are monitored and enforced by government authorities.
These programs are founded on the National Strategy and Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure, which emphasizes an all-hazards approach for strengthening the resiliency of Canada’s CI. Designed to anticipate, manage and mitigate conditions during any type of emergency, programs aim to provide structure for risk assessment and prevention activities, along with response plans and strategies. Collaborative inter-agency and government planning processes, that include response strategy development, exercises and training, further strengthen programs and capabilities.
As a result, the provinces and local authorities know who to contact to protect, or respond to impacted infrastructure during an incident, and know how to work with CI teams. Contact lists, location maps, and other crucial decision-making tools are shared and exercised in advance, as well as during the response and recovery to incidents.
Should an emergency occur, CI emergency management programs address immediate hazardous situations and commence restoration and/or repairs to damaged infrastructure as soon as possible. Each emergency has unique, complicating factors that determine how a response is managed, but for CI, prioritization is almost universally based on the following factors:
CI representatives provide situation updates to local and provincial authorities, outlining actual and potential impacts as well as possible public safety concerns. These updates include impacts to the CI’s ability to continue business and ensure essential services remain available.
In the coming weeks, CI impacted by the recent flooding in B.C.’s interior will be restored. After Action Reports detailing the effectiveness of the emergency response will be developed, and recommendations will be applied to CI emergency programs to ensure strategies are based on real-world learnings.
The importance of a strong, rehearsed plan that involves the broad and comprehensive training of personnel cannot be underestimated. CI operators' ability to respond to an emergency rests on personnel having familiarity with the response structure and operational procedures. This familiarity and comfort responding in all-hazard situations enables CI to address the specific circumstances an emergency will present, regardless of incident type or damage. It’s how CI maintains and improves its capacity for preparedness—how it ensures it can continue to serve communities during, and after an emergency – regardless of the disruption.
The prevention of catastrophic damage in all areas of our society helps us feel safe when the world around is submerged in uncertainty. Without CI, societies can’t function—and this is never truer than during an emergency.