Evolution of the Brampton Lighthouse Program and why I love my job!
I am the coordinator of the Lighthouse Program at the City of Brampton Emergency Management Office under the direction of Alain Normand. The program I coordinate started off as a series of studies and internship projects, driven by the need for surge-capacity resources revealed to us at a pivotal point in Brampton’s history: the December 2013 Ice Storm.
The York University study of Brampton’s emergency management program published in early 2013 proved to be prophetic. While there were many beneficial initiatives that strengthened the program, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and as the study suggested much work had to be done to build up resources both human and material for the needs of Brampton’s vulnerable sector before, during and after emergencies
Early in 2014, Alain’s team examined and synthesized the feedback from several after action reports, meeting minutes and post-storm municipal department reviews. It became clear that an emergency management program dependent upon small teams of responders linked to regional priorities combined with headquarters and logistical hubs outside the city made Brampton vulnerable and that his team’s efforts must be focused on harnessing resources within the city boundaries to be ready for the next large emergency, particularly service provision for the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
There were two fortunate happenstances: no carbon monoxide deaths had been reported and a small cadre of home-grown civically-engaged volunteers subbed in for shelter deployment responsibilities when shelter volunteers from the region’s Red Cross program had been retained elsewhere. In this instance Brampton was lucky. However, there was still a severely depleted tree canopy to contend with, debris removal and what ended up as a large recovery bill bloated by high service demands and a lack of pre- arranged service provision agreements at Provincial, Regional and Municipal levels. The storm bill was a hefty 51 million dollars.
Alain would learn many months later from the city’s 311 info-line call-takers that most of the City of Brampton’s vulnerable sector volunteers were hidden in plain sight: toiling in the city’s multitude of faith-based organizations. Inspired by this feedback, Alain commissioned a second study exploring vulnerable population concentrations and their proximity to churches, temples and mosques.
The study suggested that if the team outreached the 19 most geographically suitable faith-based organizations and signed them on to the city’s emergency management program, he might just be able to provide basic disaster relief within walking distance of the city’s 200 vulnerable population concentrations and greatly enhance the surge capacity plan of the city during its future emergencies.
In the summer of 2015, I was recruited to take this on. Part of my interview required that I describe examples of times where I engaged faith leaders during disaster operations. Quite a few examples came to mind. Convincing the priest at the local church in a predominantly Italian neighbourhood in Woodbridge, Ontario to advertise in his bulletin about the caseworker services at the local reception centre in both English and Italian after their 2009 tornado is one such example. Sometimes these engagements were to enhance coordinated activities in disasters and emergencies, but there were also examples of a personal nature where my interactions with a faith community and/or its leader were to sustain me, mind, body and soul, while deployed so far from home.
Not everyone has a faith in their personal resiliency toolbox but I do happen to have one in mine. Whatever the case may be, I knew this project was going to have to take an unconventional approach to get it off the ground and that it would be going beyond hazard and social vulnerability paradigms. We would be extending ourselves into the great unknown and meeting some of the most interesting and culturally diverse peoples on planet earth. As my previous deployment choices have shown I was already on that journey.
Resilience is not owned by any particular field or profession – it is by its very nature, interdisciplinary. Fortunately, I was learning about resilience analysis at university at the time, so I decided to give the WISC-MGS Baseline Resilience Framework, developed by one of my professors, Scott Miles in 2014/2015, a try. Some of the 29 researched elements of the 7 main resilience components- well-being, identity, services, capitals, metabolism, geography and sufficiency – that were contained within the analysis were compelling, and upon completion could potentially help an analyst determine with a fair degree of accuracy how the inner mechanisms of a city operates - and more importantly - what could grind its gears to a halt.
Attended services before helping some of the Iqaluit citizens after an apartment fire back in 2011 and temporarily joined the St. Patrick’s Cathedral congregation while deployed to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. One of my fellow responders was a pastor from Louisiana and now works for an NGO in New York
These components of a city’s core strength and what components are under-developed or missing are incredibly important things to consider when you develop programming for an emergency management office. Alongside what threatens a city’s resilience are asset’s one can leverage, too. Capacity-building means building what is weak or not here at all. Consider what Craig Fugate a fellow builder of the whole community approach to emergency management has to say about what he considers the 7 most deadly sins of emergency management which includes planning for what you think about and know instead of the unknowable and the unthinkable.
Thus, following this line of thinking, designing a program about capacities you have instead of the one’s you don’t is also a no-no. So one must go into the gaps and work with stakeholders who have never been engaged before. To say we would be breaking new ground with this project would be an understatement. What lie ahead would prove to be a key issue for the project – as analysis of the legal perspective revealed - our provincial emergency management doctrine lacked agreement templates suitable for this type of initiative. Which had me wondering: if our legal department would be willing to develop one specifically designed for us, particularly if what I had to propose could reduce liability issues and improve the coordination of response simultaneously, would they help us? I also wondered if the city’s strategic communications unit could develop an easily identified logo. Internal stakeholder engagement ended up being as crucial as the external connections I was making so on that note I leave you with one last link to give you an appreciation for emergency managers and their role in the big scheme of things…it may surprise you.
Oh yes and that tornado in Vaughan I mentioned. Here is the picture I drew after doing a recovery deployment. It might give you some insight as to why I love working on this project.