Vince McKay: Emergency Management Preparation

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Check against delivery

Mr. Speaker, as we face another season of floods and wildfires, I understand that many communities and residents are concerned about the potential for disaster events. We have experienced a series of unprecedented disasters over the past four years, and as the snow melts, we are seeing dramatic changes to our landscape as a result of record low water levels.

In light of this, I strongly encourage residents to check in with family, friends, and neighbours, and especially Elders or others who may not have internet, to collectively take action to prepare for this year’s high-risk season. We have learned time and time again, including during last year’s historic wildfire season, that we are stronger together and that NWT residents will be there for each other in times of need.

Mr. Speaker, we learned many lessons from last year’s disasters, and we are not waiting to make further improvements to our emergency management system. Ahead of this year’s high-risk season, the NWT Emergency Plan was updated to better reflect its purpose and to make it easier to understand. We also clarified roles and responsibilities of community governments as the leads for coordinating emergency management for their communities, as well as how the Government of the Northwest Territories, Indigenous governments, and non-governmental organizations work within the NWT’s emergency management system.

As the leads for emergency management, community governments should have Local Emergency Management Organizations with participation from Indigenous governments and other community partners. We also want community governments to be empowered to involve Indigenous governments, non-governmental organizations, and private industry in the development of emergency plans knowing that updates to the NWT Emergency Plan identify what costs may be reimbursable to them should the Disaster Assistance Policy be applied.

Mr. Speaker, community governments should have Community Emergency Plans that are reviewed and practiced annually. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs has contacted all community governments to offer assistance with planning activities and  provide workshops to support this important work. The department also provides tailored support to community governments, including presentations, meetings, and practice exercises. Since the 2023 high-risk season, the department has facilitated emergency planning workshops in 12 communities.

Our government has also been proactive with improving our preparedness and capacity to respond to emergency events. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ Emergency Management Division, the Emergency Management Organization, and all departments reviewed their procedures ahead of the high-risk season. We also issued a call for urge staff to support all departments and agencies when faced with emergencies, compiled a database of available staff, and have proactively provided training.

Each department is also responsible for updating their own business continuity plan for a wide range of emergencies that may occur and impact departmental business. As part of this work, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs has developed and shared resources on business continuity planning, including scenarios to assist departments in identifying essential staff. An inter-departmental working group led by the Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs is currently working to coordinate these plans.

In advance of this year’s high-risk season, the department also rolled out its annual Emergency Preparedness Week and Be Ready campaigns to promote the importance of personal and family preparedness. This year, the focus is on the importance of having insurance, and making sure that people know that proof of insurance or prior refusal is required to be eligible for assistance if the Disaster Assistance Policy is applied after an event. While overland flood insurance may be difficult to obtain in some circumstances, fire insurance is usually included in general insurance for residents and businesses, and all homeowners, tenants, business owners, and organizations should check their insurance coverage with their provider.

As Northerners, we know all too well that emergency events can be stressful, disruptive, costly, and potentially devastating. We also know that with better preparation, we can mitigate some of the damage, stress, and financial impact. Community governments can do their part by ensuring emergency and business continuity plans are up to date and thoroughly address potential risks. Similarly, private businesses, non-governmental organizations, and residents are all encouraged to develop business continuity plans and emergency plans that consider their specific circumstances.

I urge all residents to be prepared as the 2024 high-risk season approaches. Practical things we can all do to protect ourselves include developing workplace or household emergency plans that include plans for pets, preparing emergency kits and grab-and-go bags, and getting insurance where it is available. I also strongly encourage residents to access information from trusted sources when emergencies occur, including your local authority as lead, and the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Public Safety website. The Public Safety website has recently undergone a series of updates where residents can find emergency information and other trusted sources of information for more detail. Using this webpage, residents can quickly access all relevant safety information, including the latest wildfire updates, highway conditions, and information about outages, air quality, and much more.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize all of the good work our staff have completed since last summer and extend my sincere appreciation to emergency responders who continue to keep NWT communities and residents safe.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.