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Emergency planning questions from readers answered

The wheel from a crashed plane sits on the lawn of a small office building where a small plane carrying two people crashed onto the roof of Think Toys at 8885 Woodbine Avenue in Markham, Ontario.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Adrian Gordon and colleague Richard Kinchlea of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness (CCEP), answered some of your questions on how small businesses can formulate an 'all hazards' plan to protect their operations in the wake of disruptions.

Question from 'Dominik:' Good day. In order to mitigate and plan appropriately, I believe a solid risk analysis has to be made (the result of threat and impact assessment on critical infrastructures or core interests). However, aside from the military/intelligence community, I have come to realize that much of it (the analysis) is based on gut feel instead of sound application of a process. What literature or tool would you recommend for business managers to properly conduct a risk analysis? Thank you.

Richard Kinchlea, director of operations of the CCEP: Dominik, you are right that the trend in conducting risk analyses (RA) has been toward a 'qualitative' approach rather than a 'quantitative' one. There are valid arguments for both. Regulatory requirements in some industries absolutely require a detailed quantitative RA, sometimes dictating the exact methodology. However, for industries and businesses not legally required to conduct one, a 'gut feel' RA may be the best analysis to conduct due to time, money or resource constraints.

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CCEP's small business contingency program guides an owner/operator toward a very simple qualitative RA for just this reason. Our belief is that the majority of small business operators cannot commit the resources to conduct a full-blown analysis. It may be the difference between doing any kind of risk analysis and doing none at all.

As for recommendations on literature and tools, the answer is highly dependent on a number of factors. For example: what process or industry is being analyzed, what is the goal (or end use) of the analysis, and what is the size and complexity of the organization? There are a plethora of RA models, software and methodologies available for businesses. I would recommend, as a start, that managers research the best practice for their industry, through industry associations, government agencies or regulatory bodies if they exist. Additionally, there are associations and organizations dedicated to risk, risk analysis and risk assessment, most of which can easily be found on the web. Properly educating yourself on the various methods will determine the direction to take.

Question from 'Lancer:' To date I have seen no official plans from any agency regarding what has been dubbed the "long emergency," that is the effects of Peak Oil on our society. The UK, Australia and the USA all have task forces at the legislative and bureaucratic level but in Canada it has been left to grassroots movements like the Transition Towns and Relocalization Network to fill in the gaps. When will official plans by your agencies for the long emergency be published as we are well past the peak of conventional oil and the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf may place moratoriums on future deep water drilling, further exacerbating the price of oil and the overall costs of living for Canadians?

Adrian Gordon, president and CEO of the CCEP: Lancer, I hear your frustration and wish we could do something about it. However, the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness is an independent, non-profit organization with no connection or ties to government. The CCEP is dedicated to increasing the community resiliency through developing relevant programs for small business and non profit agencies.

Your question is as much about policy and politics as it is about planning. As a former emergency management co-ordinator for a large Canadian city, I can say that work is being done at all levels. Higher levels of government tend toward policy plans and lower levels toward contingency plans. I suggest that the question may be best answered by a government official or agency (starting with the National Energy Board), perhaps through one of these grassroots organizations you have mentioned or by contacting your local MP. Once you are aware of all the work being done, it is up to you to decide if it seems adequate.

Question from 'Richard The Lion Hearted:' How are you handling the propane hazard in the City of Toronto (Sunrise Explosion)?

Richard Kinchlea: Richard, the CCEP does not represent the City of Toronto nor any branch or agency of the government, so we do not have any direct impact on specific hazards. Our community resiliency programs focus on building awareness and educating business operators in contingency planning, which deals heavily in threats, hazards and risk.

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While I agree that 'we' as a society can do much better than allowing such a high-risk business like Sunrise Propane to be located so close to residential areas, that is a question of land use planning, policy and government regulation. I believe the City once tried to have the facility relocated through by-law restrictions, but failed as this process is heavily integrated with local and provincial governments and regulatory bodies.

The big lesson here for any business, anywhere, is to have a high degree of situational awareness about your operating environment. That is, do you know what threats and hazards exist next door, up the street or a couple of blocks away? Are you near a water body that could flood? A railway switching yard that could create a hazmat spill? A foreign consulate that may draw intense protests?

We say "know your risks." If you recognize a hazard, you can develop contingencies to mitigate, or reduce the impacts, should that hazard become real. As for working next door to a 'Sunrise,' you can develop physical contingencies such as moving to a safer location or erecting a massive blast wall. You can also mitigate the risk through ensuring that a 'risky' operation is held accountable to regulations or lobbying your local politician for stricter regulations or legislation change to reduce the risk. Lastly, should an accident occur do you have proper insurance, employee plans or an alternate location? While I would like to say such a situation should not exist, the fact is they (and other risks) do. It is up to the business owner/operator to decide if that risk is acceptable or needs to be reduced through contingency planning.

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