People and communities in British Columbia will be better prepared for emergencies and disasters under the most comprehensive and progressive emergency management framework in Canada with the introduction of the emergency and disaster management act, and the launch of an expert task force on emergencies.
Communities throughout B.C. are dealing with the adverse effects of climate change, including more frequent and severe weather events that threaten homes, businesses and infrastructure.
When passed, the new emergency and disaster management act will implement a more proactive approach to emergency management – with an emphasis on disaster risk reduction – to safeguard people and communities.
Complementing the legislation, the emergencies task force, made up of 14 experts in emergency and wildfire management, will begin work immediately and provide action-oriented recommendations on enhancing emergency preparedness and response in advance of the 2024 wildfire season.
“A changing climate means people and communities around B.C. are feeling the effects of extreme weather emergencies like never before,” said Premier David Eby. “We’re taking action with a strong and proactive approach to emergency management, one that will be guided by an expert task force with representatives from First Nations, local government and more. Our focus is on supporting those on the front lines of a disaster and quickly applying the lessons we’ve learned to better prepare for future emergencies.”
The new legislation, introduced on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, incorporates lessons learned from recent emergencies and reflects modern risks and realities, including climate change and transmissible diseases, such as COVID-19. The legislation adheres to the United Nations’ best practices for disaster risk reduction and incorporates all four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
“Over the last number of years, British Columbians have experienced extreme climate disasters and we’ve learned a lot about how we can be better prepared for emergencies to keep people safe,” said Bowinn Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness. “From this summer’s wildfires and drought to the atmospheric rivers and extreme heat of 2021, we know first-hand how climate change can affect our lives. This act modernizes how our province approaches emergency management by putting a greater emphasis on preparing for and mitigating the impacts of climate-related emergencies before they happen – keeping people and communities safer from disasters.”
The legislation formally recognizes First Nations’ inherent right of self-government in relation to emergency management. The legislation recognizes First Nations’ traditional territories and treaty areas, represents Indigenous governing bodies consistent with B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and enables co-ordination agreements with Indigenous governing bodies. The emergency and disaster management act is an important step in aligning B.C.’s approach with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Province is committed to continuing work with First Nations to progress efforts to support alignment under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Implementation of the emergency and disaster management act will be phased in over time. The Province is working with First Nations and local governments to ensure they have the support they need to successfully implement the legislation.
Premier Eby has appointed representatives from the Province, First Nations, local governments and other experts to the task force. The team will identify lessons learned from the 2023 wildfire season, and opportunities to improve preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery to better support people on the front lines of emergencies. Task force members will draw on their individual expertise, and will engage with front-line workers, First Nations, local governments and key industries, such as agriculture and tourism that experienced challenges during the 2023 wildfire season.
“We are committed to protecting British Columbians from extreme weather emergencies caused by climate change,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests. “While we have made significant investments in emergency management in recent years, the emergency-response landscape has changed due to the frequency and severity of climate-driven emergency events. The new expert task force on emergencies will bring together on-the-ground experience from across the region and strengthen emergency response throughout B.C.”
The task force will deliver recommendations to government in early 2024 to address key priorities related to emergency management and wildfire management.
- The emergency and disaster management act will replace the Emergency Program Act, which has not been substantially updated since 1993.
- Modernized emergency management regulations to complement the act will be introduced in a phased approach, starting in late 2023.
- The regulations will be developed in consultation and co-operation with First Nations.
- In addition to continuous improvements to emergency management, the emergency and disaster management act will be reviewed within five years of receiving royal assent.
To learn more about the emergency and disaster management act, visit:
To learn more about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, visit:
To learn more about the United Nations Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, visit:
For more information about B.C. legislation, visit: https://workingforyou.gov.bc.ca/legislation
Two backgrounders follow.