Public policy papers Mitigating Catastrophic Losses: Policies and Policy-Making at Three Levels of Government in the United States and Canada Dan Henstra and Andrew Sancton November 2002 ICLR Research Paper Series – No. 23 November 2002
In the United States, government commitment to hazard mitigation has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. Today, American legislation empowers federal agencies to promote and encourage hazard mitigation at all levels of government. Emergency management is spearheaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an autonomous federal agency under the leadership of a director who is appointed by the President. Through its various programs and initiatives, FEMA has taken an active role in promoting pre-disaster hazard mitigation and provides a central resource point for federal, state and local officials seeking information and advice in the area of emergency management. State emergency management appears to be developed and well-coordinated, incorporating mitigation principles to reduce the potential for disaster losses.
In contrast, Canada’s federal emergency management organization, the Office of Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP), resides within the Department of National Defence under the authority of the Defence Minister. Federal policies addressing natural hazards focus mainly on preparedness and response to emergencies and the legal structure on which emergency management is based makes no mention of hazard mitigation as a government priority. Despite a relatively strong and active policy community which has promoted more proactive efforts, governments in Canada have been slow to recognize the value of mitigation and incorporate it into practice. Provincial approaches vary widely from one to the next, but the focus is generally limited to preparedness and response. At the municipal level, hazard mitigation is a low priority issue which is often shelved in favour of more visible community concerns.
Whether or not to implement hazard mitigation strategies is a policy decision, and differences in the policy environments of the United States and Canada help to explain why emergency management in the two countries is structured differently. Some of the differences illustrated in this paper include:
1. Federalism: The constitutional structure and nature of federalism in the two countries differs; in the United States, state interests are articulated to the federal government through permanent representation in Congress, which has often permitted smoother implementation of national programs. In Canada, provincial premiers act as strong representatives of regional interests, which have often restrained the ability of the federal government to play a leadership role in national programs, particularly in areas traditionally handled by the provinces.
2. Policy Actors: In the United States, Members of Congress and senators play an active role in policy-making, working through groups and committees to promote the interests of their constituents. In Canada, policy-making is dominated by the Prime Minister and cabinet and individual entrepreneurship by members of parliament is difficult, as they are expected to vote with their party.
3. Professional Associations: A significant emergency management community has developed in the United States, with a strong research network and influential advocacy groups. Emergency management has grown into a professional field, with education and certification standards and professional associations that lobby governments for greater commitment to hazard mitigation. This level of professionalization has not yet emerged in Canada and the policy community continues to evolve. Recommendations for further development of Canada’s commitment to hazard mitigation include: 1. The formation of a more cohesive and organized policy community that can take advantage of a policy window to advocate the adoption of mitigation strategies; 2. Greater efforts to raise public awareness and build constituency support at the local level; 3. Continued research of the Canadian policy environment to identify and remove barriers to the implementation of mitigation policies; and 4. Demonstrated commitment at all levels of government to include mitigation as a policy priority.