ONTARIO — It’s been an annual Ontario tradition for about 20 years: Municipal, fire, police and other officials gathering for a tabletop exercise to test their plans for various disaster scenarios — from earthquakes to crashed airliners, train derailments and tornados.
But not this year. Thanks to the actual crisis now gripping the planet, the province’s municipalities won’t have to conduct a mock emergency exercise in 2020.
Ontario’s solicitor general temporarily suspended the requirement yesterday, “recognizing that municipalities and provincial ministries continue to actively engage their emergency management procedures and programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the province says in a press release.
Local municipalities began holding emergency practice sessions after the wreckage of the 1998 Ice Storm, a baptism by fire that created a renewed interest in being prepared for the worst.
Ontario currently remains under a provincial declaration of emergency made by the provincial government on March 17. A municipal version of the declaration, similarly compelled by the pandemic, also remains in effect.
“The COVID-19 emergency has required all of us to act quickly and respond to challenges none of us could ever have imagined,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Clearly, 2020 has been a true test of our emergency plans, which is why we can safely waive the requirement for practice exercises this year. I applaud our municipal partners as they have demonstrated extraordinary collaboration, determination and resilience throughout the pandemic to protect public health and reopen our communities.”
“Our government has been working closely with our municipal partners to help ensure they have the flexibility, tools and resources they need to keep our communities safe and functioning during this challenging time,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Waiving the requirement for municipalities to conduct a mock emergency exercise this year allows them to focus on what matters most right now — continuing to protect the health and well-being of all Ontarians.”
“The government’s flexibility and understanding of the operating challenges faced by municipal governments during this time is welcome,” said Graydon Smith, President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. “The exemption from conducting the mock emergency exercises in 2020 will enable municipalities to continue to focus on the pandemic response. At the same time, Ontario’s municipal governments continue to work alongside the Ontario government to protect the health and safety of their residents through ongoing planning for emergencies of all types.”