The federal government plans to cut funding to the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP) at a time when decisions and response related to a deadly roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ontario have come under fire.
The Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Initiative, funding for which flows through JEPP, was launched in 2001 to develop teams for deployment to any Canadian disaster causing structural collapse. Federal officials have said it is now time for the provinces to assume funding and training responsibilities for the five HUSAR teams across the country.
A 2008-2009 evaluation of HUSAR identified a “lack of dedicated resources to the initiative [that] has impacted the ability to significantly contribute to the development of (national) operating procedures associated with a national emergency response.”
The evaluation recommended that a risk assessment be undertaken to better understand threats, impacts and mitigation strategies. Among other things, the assessment should address the ability of HUSAR teams to deploy nationally, the lack of inter-jurisdictional agreements at all levels of government, and the assignment of responsibility of an operational initiative (HUSAR) to a non-operational organization.
Ontario expects to launch an independent public inquiry into circumstances surrounding the partial roof collapse at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake. Two people died as a result of the collapse last month, Ontario’s chief coroner has confirmed.
Provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the inquiry is the best way to make public facts about what led to the disaster and what happened thereafter. Internal reviews may lack the required scope, independence and public accessibility, Horwath adds.
“We have an obligation to do whatever we can to prevent similar tragedies and respond in the best way possible when they do happen,” says Premier Dalton McGuinty.