Improved Provincial-Municipal Emergency Collaboration and Communications
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association urge the Government of Alberta to:
• Work collaboratively with municipalities and their emergency management organizations on conducting a comprehensive lessons-learned review of the COVID-19 pandemic response and incorporate those lessons in an improved Provincial emergency response and communications plan;
• Commit that going forward Alberta’s municipalities and their emergency management organizations will be treated as trusted and valued partners in Provincial emergency response; and
• Establish an advisory group of municipal emergency management organizations and other key stakeholders to better advise and support the Government of Alberta’s decision making and emergency order drafting and to improve emergency communications, coordination and collaboration.
WHEREAS Alberta and its municipalities have been recognized nationally and internationally in the past for their collaborative, inter-governmental and inter-agency approach to emergency response;
WHEREAS Alberta’s traditional emergency management processes involve the Government of Alberta (through the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA)) providing support in a collaborative and timely manner to Alberta’s municipalities who play an essential leadership role within their jurisdiction in responding to the emergency event occurring in their community;
WHEREAS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a lack of proactive communication and meaningful engagement and collaboration from the Government of Alberta towards Alberta’s municipalities, and this has resulted in negative outcomes for municipalities and their citizens;
WHEREAS during the COVID-19 pandemic there has been very little opportunity for Alberta’s municipalities to provide advanced input on public health measures or decisions, even though these have significant consequences at the local level and local advice, in many cases, could have improved the effectiveness of provincial measures;
WHEREAS during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta’s municipalities rarely received formal advance notice of the details and timing of public health measures before they were announced and had to find out details of measures through press conferences at the same time as the public;
WHEREAS official Public Health Orders and Ministerial Orders were typically not published until often several days after the restrictions were implemented; and
WHEREAS this lack of collaboration has been the source of major challenges for implementation of public health measures for municipal services, communications and public engagement, and enforcement of public health measures by local enforcement agencies. The result has been confusion, reputational impacts, financial loss, and impacts to service delivery.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lack of proactive communication and meaningful engagement from the Government of Alberta towards Alberta municipalities and their emergency management organizations. This has resulted in negative outcomes for Albertans.
Alberta’s municipalities and their emergency management agencies have positive working relationships with their operational counterparts within the Government of Alberta, however, the decision-making process that was adopted by the Government of Alberta for the pandemic limited the ability of both orders of government to effectively collaborate. In traditional emergency management processes, local authorities play a leadership role within their jurisdiction and are provided support by the Government of Alberta (through the AEMA) in a collaborative manner through a well-established framework. During the pandemic, there has been very little opportunity for municipalities to provide advance input on public health measures, Ministerial Orders and provincial decisions even though these have had significant consequences at the local level and Alberta’s municipalities are required to implement and enforce them.
There have been several occasions over the past 15 months where if municipalities had been given either the opportunity to provide input into the drafting of orders, or advance notice of their issuing, confusion would have been prevented and the efficiency of implementation of orders improved.
Alberta’s municipalities recognize the Government of Alberta’s mandate to lead on public health issues and pandemic response, and that protracted engagement with every municipality in Alberta would be a challenge. Despite this challenge, communication flow and coordination needs to be improved for future emergency events.
The pandemic response did not just include issues requiring the timely communication between different orders of government, the drafting and execution of public health orders, and public communications. The wider pandemic response also included supports and financial aid for individuals, businesses and municipalities to meet immediate short-term challenges and support long-term post-pandemic recovery. During the pandemic, both location-specific and province-wide orders and measures were enacted (in urban, rural, and Indigenous settings) and their utility and effectiveness must be understood to improve future responses in similar emergency situations.
The wider pandemic response also required Alberta’s municipalities to make difficult decisions regarding their own local pandemic response. Municipal councils and administrations had to determine, under difficult financial and health circumstances, which services should be prioritized and at what level of service (i.e. continued or reduced). During the pandemic, municipal governments worked hard to find innovative solutions to support the welfare and safety of their citizens and businesses while advocating to the Government of Alberta for financial support and stimulus investments.
As the pandemic ends, it is important for organizations to review their emergency response, to proactively conduct a lessons learned review to identify issues and deficiencies and look towards improving their plans and best practices, in order to be better prepared when a similar emergency occurs in the future . In the municipal emergency management context this includes, but is not exclusive to, reviewing issues of emergency response, the drafting and issuing of health orders, improved communication between orders of government, business supports, clarification of essential services, review of financial aid programs, value of municipal stimulus program, consideration of multiple scales of response and recovery (urban, rural, Indigenous) and review of vaccination and mass casualty planning.
This resolution is proposing to AUMA members that the Government of Alberta and Alberta’s municipalities conduct a comprehensive review of the pandemic response together to find solutions to these issues, improve provincial-municipal cooperation and collaboration, and improve emergency communications and coordination going forward into any similar emergency event. A permanent advisory group is needed, made up of members from Alberta’s emergency management organizations and other key municipal stakeholders, which could provide a resource to aid the Government of Alberta’s decision making and improve municipal-provincial collaboration, coordination and communications.
This resolution aligns with previous advocacy on emergency management. This resolution has been forwarded to the Government of Alberta for response and further advocacy will be recommended to Alberta Municipalities' Board by the Infrastructure and Energy Committee, within the context of related priorities and positions.