Federal disaster plan comes up short: auditor general

OTTAWA — Public Safety Canada, the agency charged with co-ordinating the federal response to threats such as the H1N1 flu, has yet to complete its emergency plan, the auditor general says.

Auditor General of Canada Sheila Fraser holds the 2009 Auditor General's Fall Report in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Public Safety Canada, the agency charged with co-ordinating the federal response to threats such as the H1N1 flu, has yet to complete its emergency plan, the auditor general says.

Two years after Parliament gave the department responsibility for emergency management leadership, the formal plan has yet to be finished and approved.

There is growing political and public anger over H1N1, as thousands flock to overwhelmed clinics for flu shots — but there’s no overall federal plan for emergencies, be they pandemics, floods, blackouts or terror attacks.

In the latest of her periodic reports to Parliament, Auditor General Sheila Fraser said Tuesday that Public Safety is supposed to ensure that federal departments work together in emergencies.

“The aim is to eliminate the potential for confusion when responding in a crisis and provide a federal point for co-ordination,” says the report.

Instead, the department is still drafting the policies and rules that would define what it’s supposed to do and how it’s supposed to do it.

“Until it is clearly established how Public Safety Canada will work with other departments, it will be difficult for it to truly co-ordinate the federal response to emergency situations.”

Fraser said it’s clear the federal government can respond to crises.

“Are they responding in a co-ordinated way, as effectively and efficiently as they should be?”

She said the department did play a part in developing responses to avian flu and H1N1, but hasn’t nailed down its role as the central, co-ordinating body for emergencies in general.

It’s also fallen short on the issues of cybersecurity and protecting critical infrastructure — railways, pipelines, power plants and the like.

“We found that Public Safety Canada has not exercised the leadership necessary to co-ordinate emergency management activities, including protection of critical infrastructure.”

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