The long hot summer of 2002 in much of North America helped remind us why various sorts of disasters have lately been looming increasingly larger as public policy concerns. Whatever the ultimate causes may be, the climate is changing and the world has experienced a marked increase in severe weather events over the past 10 to 15 years.

To take just one sharp-edged illustration, from the late 1940s down to the late 1980s, the US insurance industry had natural disaster-related loss payments of somewhat less than $22 billion. Over the much shorter period from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, these payments ballooned to some $79 billion.

Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., we have learned as well that concern about disasters nowadays flows from new instability in many kinds of human environments. The ter- rorist warning to US allies such as ”œGreat Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, and Australia,” delivered by the Al- Jazeera television station in November 2002, has underlined how Canada itself is not immune, and no longer lives in ”œa fire-proof house.”

In this broad context Canada and the US have been introducing reforms and taking new initiatives in disaster management policy over the past number of years (and cer- tainly even before September 11). We will compare their respective approaches focusing on two particular aspects, mitigation and heritage preservation. In the US, as open to continuing improvement as the present situation may be, heritage preservation does have some quite direct and explicit linkages to disaster management policy and pro- grams. In Canada these sectors still exist in ”œtwo solitudes,” to borrow a familiar phrase from other debates.

The ultimate argument for linking heritage preservation with disaster management policy is simply that at least some part of the built and even perhaps the natural heritage of any place is an important element in the ”œcritical infrastructure” that this policy is meant to protect. In the United States espe- cially heritage advocates have complained that new disaster mitigation policies and programs can almost systematically act to frustrate heritage preservation objectives. Such mitigation measures as floodplain clearance, to take one straightforward example, have sometimes just mindlessly demolished impor- tant heritage structures ”” in an effort to reduce the costs of recovering from future flooding disasters. (If you just bull- doze everything away in a floodplain, there will be nothing that needs expen- sive restoration after the next flood.)

While US heritage advocates still have complaints about how disaster management policy in their country deals with heritage preservation, recent policy development has taken some steps in their direction. Partly because disaster mitigation policy in Canada is itself less developed, Canadian heritage advocates can be excused for envying current conditions in the republic to the south. Our examination, however, suggests that there are some current policy opportunities for drawing these particular two Canadian solitudes closer together, in suitably Canadian ways. More generally, examination of Canada-US relationships in disaster and emergency man- agement suggests how, in at least some cases, arguments for enhancing public policy harmo- nization in North America can imply that governments in Canada should actually be doing more, not less, than they are doing now.

In both the US and Canada ”œdisaster management” is a generic or umbrella term used by emergency and disaster assistance practitioners to describe a wide range of activities relat- ed to preparing for and reacting to all forms of disaster. In both places it is customarily divided into four phases: preparedness, emergency response, recovery, and mitigation.

  • Preparedness involves ensuring that an individual or community is ready to respond to a disaster. This includes preparing and prac- tising emergency response plans and training staff, particularly key first responders: fire, police, and medical personnel.

  • Emergency response refers to the immediate action before, during, or directly after an emergency or disaster strikes ”” the implementation of all plans made during the initial preparedness phase (and in practice often much else never quite contemplated before).

  • Recovery, often called disaster assis- tance, involves providing critical aid and support to individuals, communities, small businesses, and farms, to repair and restore infrastructure and to return to pre- disaster conditions. This phase can be quite lengthy and extensive.

  • Mitigation is the last phase in the dis- aster management cycle. In many ways it is the newest and least devel- oped of all four phases. Mitigation is doing any thing you can to make your home or community ”” or her- itage property ”” disaster resistant, or more resilient to damage when disasters do take place. It goes far beyond just being prepared.

The US and Canada do share com- mon approaches to some facets of overall disaster management. The two countries strongly believe that, as a matter of both practice and policy, dis- aster preparedness and response begin at the local level. When the local-level capability is overwhelmed, higher lev- els of government become involved.

In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quickly and visibly becomes involved. They will send in assessment teams, become active in the immediate response activ- ities, and begin to activate federal dis- aster assistance programs. Depending on the disaster response and recovery capacity of different states, the state government will be involved to a greater or lesser extent ”” but FEMA is always visible and frequently the lead- ing partner.

In Canada, however, the next level of government involved is always the province. The Canadian Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP), somewhat analogous to FEMA in the US, is rarely visible in local disasters. They always work through the provinces. If a disaster is large and costly enough, provinces can apply to OCIPEP for finan- cial assistance, based on a formula that relates the amount of assistance to the magnitude of the disaster, relative to the population of the province.

Another major difference between overall disaster manage- ment in the US and Canada is that Canadians, small businesses, and farms apply to the province for assistance, and assistance is almost exclusively based on direct cash grants. Provincial pro- grams vary in their eligibility and other criteria. But if you meet the criteria, and can prove that you exercised due diligence in pur- chasing proper insurance, you will receive a cheque from the provincial government ”” sometimes for a quite substantial amount.

In the US, individuals apply direct- ly to FEMA, which channels their requests to its own programs and other related federal government programs, some of which have broader purposes but can also be accessed for disaster recovery. The main programs of this sort are based on low-interest loans. Those who do not qualify for loan pro- grams, or are already receiving other government aid, are eligible for two comparatively small direct cash grants as a matter of last resort.

Along with individual assistance, in both the US and Canada there are also public assistance programs, which fund repairs to public infrastructure and related community facilities. These programs were comparable up until the mid-1990s when mitigation became the cornerstone of the US policy.

Indeed, after Hurricane Andrew in the early 1990s, the US federal govern- ment substantially revised its approach to disaster management. Already it was clear that disasters were becoming more frequent and more costly. The view of an impressively reinvigorated Federal Emergency Management Agency, repeatedly expressed in public, was that an assistance strategy which relied on ”œfix it” and ”œfix it again” was untenable. Over the following years, FEMA made mitigation the cornerstone of US disaster management strategy. Their belief was that spending money to make communities more disaster resistant can save larger amounts of money when disasters strike.

Canada, on the other hand, has only just begun to explore a national disaster mitigation strategy in any seri- ous way. The Canadian insurance industry especially started to advocate movement in this direction, in the wake of the three big Canadian disas- ters of the later 1990s ”” the Saguenay floods of 1996 in Quebec, the Red River floods of 1997 in Manitoba, and the ice storm of 1998 in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. But Canadian progress has so far been measured at best. Provinces and territories met with the federal government in June 2002, to discuss a paper released by Ottawa on the development of a national disaster mitigation strategy. OCIPEP was also scheduled to report to the federal cabinet on the subject by the end of the year.

The policy sector characterized by the impressive FEMA Web site as ”œheritage preserva- tion and cultural resources” raises a less significant but still intriguing difference between disaster management systems in the US and Canada.

Two general points about US policy in this context are especially striking.

The first is that the current US relationship between heritage preser- vation and disaster management is rooted in relatively strong federal her- itage legislation compared to Canada. As FEMA explains on its Web site, Washington’s lead organization for disaster management is legally required to ”œdeliver disaster-related services and assistance in a manner that also achieves the objective of avoiding or minimizing adverse effects to historic properties through compli- ance with the National Historic Preservation Act and other relevant historic preservation laws, regulations and Executive Orders.”

The second general point is that much of the practical activity to ensure this kind of compliance occurs through FEMA’s innovative disaster mitigation funding. Its Historic Preservation Program, managed by its Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, includes the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). This is ”œpost-disaster” mitigation fund- ing for public and community institu- tions, and you have to have had a presidentially declared disaster in your neighbourhood recently to qualify.

Two examples of heritage preser- vation success stories will provide a concrete sense of how the FEMA model works. In both cases the declared disasters involved flooding ”” by far the most frequent type of natu- ral disaster in both the US and Canada.

The first case started with assorted extreme weather conditions that led to some very serious flooding in upstate New York in late January 1996, espe- cially in the Town of Fulton. Many dif- ferent hazard mitigation measures were built into the FEMA-supported recovery effort for this disaster. They included HMGP funding for the public acquisition and demolition of eight properties in high flood-risk areas of Fulton. As a result of the heritage preservation review process FEMA requires in such circumstances, it was determined that one of these proper- ties ”” the so-called Bruchmann resi- dence (a Greek Revival structure from the mid-19th century) ”” was eligible for inclusion on the US National Register of historic properties.

US heritage advocates sometimes complain that while a heritage preser- vation review is a ”œmandatory” step in FEMA’s handling of disaster recov- ery and public disaster assistance process, any action to implement the results of this process is only volun- tary. FEMA nonetheless points out on its Web site that there is significant room in the process for effective implementation by federal, state, and local bureaucracies, and includes local community groups.

In Fulton, for example, FEMA linked its HMGP funding for flood plain clearance to local efforts to seek an interested party to move the Bruchmann residence from the affected area, rather than just demolishing it. After an arduous but ultimately success- ful search, an interested party was final- ly found in the year 2000. The Bruchmann residence was disassembled and moved to a site in a neighbouring county. As the Web site explains, FEMA fulfilled its role ”œin advocating historic preservation within the parameters of hazard mitigation projects.”

A second success story comes from Grand Forks, North Dakota, and relates to the massive Red River floods of 1997. One of the City of Grand Forks properties that sustained signifi- cant damage was the South Middle School ”” a structure with a ”œsignifi- cant Art Deco design,” that had addi- tional historic interest as it was the only school built in Grand Forks between 1918 and 1948.

FEMA’s historic preservation review process determined that the South Middle School in Grand Forks qualified for inclusion on the National Register of historic properties. In this case repairs to the flood-damaged building qualified for substantial fund- ing from the general FEMA Public Assistance Program. But Grand Forks officials decided that they would prefer to use the available federal funds to construct a new school.

Here FEMA linked its agreement to efforts by the city to seek a new owner for South Middle School, who would preserve its unique historical value. After a long process, involving much community consultation and negotia- tion, the school was taken over by a local developer, who has restored it as a senior citizens’ housing complex. In this instance, as the FEMA Web site explains, the South Middle School project demonstrated ”œthe success of using preservation as part of the [disas- ter] recovery effort, to assure the residents of a community that their memories and values will continue to thrive as the community rebuilds.”

Canada at the moment has neither the kind of comparatively strong federal heritage legislation that pre- vails in the US, nor does OCIPEP have FEMA’s experience with hazard miti- gation programs in disaster manage- ment. Yet it cannot exactly be said that efforts to link the two Canadian solitudes in the heritage preservation and disaster or emergency manage- ment communities have been alto- gether lacking in the more recent past. A First National Summit on Cultural Heritage and Risk Preparedness in Canada was held at Quebec City in September 1996. It put an apt finger on a key continuing difficulty, when it referred in its final declaration to the ”œadministrative obstacles limiting effective coordination among authorities responsible both for cultural heritage and emergency response at federal, provincial and municipal levels.”

At least some initial wider momentum was generated by this summit. Over the past half dozen years, there have been a few staff-level efforts to promote heritage preserva- tion perspectives inside OCIPEP and its precursor, Emergency Preparedness Canada (EPC). Rumour has it that these efforts were quiet uphill strug- gles, which faded altogether as just coping with Canada’s big three disas- ters of 1996, 1997, and 1998 rushed to the centre of everyone’s attention, along with subsequent widespread concerns about Y2K.

The 1996 summit in Quebec City was held under the auspices of the Canadian branches of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and UNESCO. In the same year ICOM and ICOMOS in Canada were involved in the establishment of the Blue Shield Movement ”” an ”œinternational initia- tive to improve risk preparedness for cultural heritage” ”” ”œa bit like the Red Cross, only for cultural heritage, both movable and immovable.”

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), a special operating agency of the Department of Canadian Heritage, has also recently been dab- bling with programs dealing with the link between heritage preservation and disaster or emergency management. Quite recently CCI’s parent organiza- tion, the Department of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, has launched a forward-looking process known as the Historic Places Initiative.

This initiative is ultimately intend- ed to help Canadian communities ”œpre- serve and protect their built heritage,” by making ”œfinancial incentives available to private sector developers for the redevelopment of historic places.” So far the department in Ottawa has been working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to develop a register of eligible places and test con- servation standards and guidelines in a number of pilot projects.

An altogether comprehensive look at the landscape here would espe- cially want to explore programs and initiatives at the provincial level, which remains the primary Canadian focus for both heritage preservation and disaster or emergency manage- ment policy.

There have been some suggestions that BC has been experimenting with linkages between heritage preservation and disaster management in British Columbia. But if this is true it is news to disaster management officials in BC. At the same time, BC has recently been the scene of some innovative on-the- ground work with disaster mitigation policy in Canada, along with both Manitoba and Quebec. In Ontario and other provinces as well, there has lately been some fresh, albeit modest, ferment around the early introduction of disaster mitigation measures into provincial and local government policies and programs.

Whatever else might be said, the main conclusion to the story here is clear enough. In the United States over the past half-dozen years, under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant and related programs, federal disaster mitigation funds have been quite deliberately and systematically expend- ed in support of heritage preservation work. In Canada there is still no for- mal, systematic, hazard mitigation pro- gram of any description at all, let alone one that provides assistance for heritage preservation.

With an eye on the somewhat longer-term future, optimists might nonetheless urge that there is now a broader policy window for strengthen- ing the ties between the two solitudes of heritage preservation and disaster management in Canada.

There are of course underlying dif- ferences between the US and Canada that are bound to be reflected in both disaster management and heritage preservation policies and programs. OCIPEP has been somewhat expanded in the recent past. But it can never become the kind of federal govern- ment organization that FEMA is (and FEMA is slated to become part of the new Department of Homeland Security in Washington).

The Canadian Heritage Historic Places Initiative and its national reg- ister of historic properties is not unlike the US national register, which plays an important role in FEMA’s disaster recovery and mitigation work. At the same time, OCIPEP has made some progress toward a nation- al disaster mitigation strategy for Canada, raising at least potential longer-term prospects of some varia- tion on the disaster mitigation pro- grams that plug into heritage preservation on the FEMA model, in the United States.

It is no accident that both the Canadian Heritage and OCIPEP initia- tives also have crucial local and provin- cial/territorial dimensions. These are supplemented and reinforced by the introduction of informally related new legislation in some provinces, which will finally require new community hazard and risk assessments.

At the local, provincial, and fed- eral levels of government, Canada will probably never have any exact approximation of the linkages between heritage preservation and disaster management proposed by the FEMA model. But there is cur- rently a policy opportunity for devel- oping stronger linkages of that sort that blend in effectively with the more decentralized institutions that are particular to Canadian federal- ism. Insofar as policy makers take up this opportunity, enhancing public policy harmonization in North America will mean that Canadian governments are in fact somewhat more not less active than they are now, in both disaster management and heritage preservation.


A preliminary version of this paper was pre- sented at the 2002 Annual Conference of the Association for Preservation Technology International in Toronto.

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