March 21, 2023
Emergency Management in First Nations Communities
NationTalk: Auditor-General released Report 8 on Nov. 15, 2022
May 8.1 Emergencies such as floods, wildfires, landslides, and severe weather events are happening more often and with greater intensity throughout Canada. These emergencies disproportionately affect First Nations communities—groups of First Nations people living on reservesDefinition 1—because of their relative remoteness and socio-economic circumstances. In addition, many First Nations communities were relocated from their traditional lands to flood- and wildfire-prone areas. First Nations communities are also more likely to be evacuated than non‑Indigenous communities.
8.2 Over the last 13 years, First Nations communities experienced more than 1,300 emergencies leading to more than 580 evacuations affecting more than 130,000 people. Some of these people were evacuated more than once for different emergencies (Exhibit 8.1).
Exhibit 8.1—The number of emergencies and evacuations in First Nations communities (2009–10 to 2021–22fiscal years)
Note: The data for emergencies covers floods, wildfires, landslides, and severe weather events.
Source: Indigenous Services Canada’s Incident Database
Findings and Recommendations
8.12 Overall, Indigenous Services Canada did not provide the support First Nations communities needed to manage emergencies such as floods and wildfires, which are happening more often and with greater intensity.
8.13 We found that the department’s actions were more reactive than preventative, despite First Nations communities identifying many infrastructure projects to mitigate the impact of emergencies. The department had a backlog of 112 of these infrastructure projects that it had determined were eligible but that it had not funded. The department is also spending 3.5 times more money on responding to and recovering from emergencies than on supporting the communities to prevent or prepare for them. Until these projects are completed, First Nations communities are likely to continue to experience emergencies that could be averted by investing in the right infrastructure.
8.14 Many issues have not improved since we first identified them in our 2013 audit of emergency management on reserves. For example, Indigenous Services Canada still had not identified which First Nations communities were the least likely to be able to manage emergencies. Doing so would allow the department to target investments in these communities, such as building culverts and dikes to prevent seasonal floods, and to help avoid some of the costs of responding to and recovering from emergencies.
8.15 The department also did not know whether First Nations received services that were culturally appropriate and comparable to emergency services provided in municipalities of similar size and circumstance because it did not identify or consistently monitor the services or level of services to be provided to First Nations.
Recommendations and Responses
In the following table, the paragraph number preceding the recommendation indicates the location of the recommendation in the report.
|8.32 Indigenous Services Canada should work with First Nations to implement a risk-based approach to inform program planning and decisions on where to invest in preparedness and mitigation activities to maximize support to communities at highest risk of being affected by emergencies.||The department’s response. Agreed. In collaboration with First Nations, Indigenous Services Canada is committed to implement a risk-based approach to inform funding decisions. Targeted investments by the department will consider, as it has to date, the communities’ willingness, readiness and interest in undertaking emergency preparedness activities by empowering First Nations to take the lead in preparing for and managing emergencies. The department is committed to support First Nations in their endeavours to identify their unique communities’ level of risk and priorities to seek funding from the department to enhance emergency preparedness.|
|8.36 Indigenous Services Canada should work with First Nations communities to address the backlogs of eligible but unfunded structural mitigation projects and of unreviewed structural mitigation projects to effectively allocate resources to reduce the impact of emergencies on First Nations communities.||The department’s response. Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada is currently working with First Nations to identify the infrastructure gap, which includes structural mitigation needs. The department will support First Nations to work toward closing that gap in the long term. In addition, the department is committed to work with First Nations, as well as collaborate with central agencies, other government departments, and all levels of government to leverage partnership opportunities and explore alternate financing options to meet the needs of First Nations in structural mitigation while working toward the transfer of infrastructure services.|
|8.39 Indigenous Services Canada should, on the basis of an assessment of risks, regularly update outdated departmental and regional emergency management plans and take immediate action to develop regional emergency management plans for the 3 regions that do not have them. These plans should be used to make informed decisions and take concrete actions to assist First Nations communities with managing the risks related to emergencies.||The department’s response. Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada, in collaboration with First Nations, will proceed to review and update the department’s national Emergency Management Plan and regional plans and will develop customized regional emergency management plans based on an assessment of risks.|
|8.42 Indigenous Services Canada, in collaboration with First Nations, should determine how many emergency management coordinator positions are required and allocate funding for these positions on the basis of risk and need to ensure that First Nations have sustained capacity to manage emergencies.||The department’s response. Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada is committed to work in partnership with First Nations to build emergency management capacity. The department also agrees that funding for emergency management positions, provided through the Emergency Management Assistance Program’s capacity enhancement funding stream, should be expanded. Emergency management coordinators, of which the department currently funds 196 full- or part-time positions across the country, provide First Nations with valuable emergency preparedness and planning capacity. The department is diligently working to secure additional funding to provide more positions to First Nations communities.|
|8.62 Indigenous Services Canada should, in collaboration with First Nations, provincial governments, and other service providers, ensure that First Nations communities receive the emergency management services they need byestablishing emergency management service agreements and wildfire agreements in all jurisdictions that include all First Nationsestablishing mutually agreed-upon evacuation service standards in the jurisdictions that lack such standardsincreasing support for First Nations–led approaches to emergency management||The department’s response. Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada is committed to work in partnership with First Nations and emergency management partners to establish comprehensive emergency management service agreements.|
|8.66 Indigenous Services Canada should develop performance indicators to allow the department to measure progress against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and use these indicators to track and report publicly on progress.||The department’s response. Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada agrees that certain performance indicators could be improved to better measure progress against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Moving forward, the department will ask its programs that use performance indicators related to emergency management to review and consider revising how they measure progress against the Sustainable Development Goals. The review process should involve programs analyzing both the federal and departmental sustainable development strategies as well as the Sustainable Development Goal targets to understand how the programs could best measure progress and to identify which performance indicators should be utilized to do so.The Government of Canada also reports on progress made to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals domestically and uses performance indicators from the Canadian Indicator Framework (see Taking Action Together— Canada’s 2021 Annual Report on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals). The department supports this whole‑of‑government process by providing information on relevant departmental actions and initiatives that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.|
|8.68 Indigenous Services Canada should, in collaboration with First Nations, provincial governments, and other service providers, ensure that First Nations communities receive the emergency management services they need bydefining what is meant by comparable services for First Nations in relation to those available to municipalities of similar size and circumstance in each jurisdictionmonitoring the services provided to First Nations to ensure that they are comparable to services provided to non‑Indigenous communities, are culturally appropriate, and address the needs of marginalized groupsidentifying and addressing shortcomings by monitoring emergency management service agreements and conducting lessons-learned exercises||The department’s response. Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada is committed to work in partnership with First Nations and emergency management partners to establish comprehensive emergency management service agreements that will define comparability of services and monitoring and reporting components to identify and address shortcomings for continuous improvement.|
Click the following link to access the full “Emergency Management in First Nations” report