Stability takes work. You may be familiar with sociologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which uses a pyramid structure to demonstrate how a human being builds upward from their most fundamental needs (food, shelter and safety) to higher aspirations such as love, esteem and self-actualization. Societies are much the same: if citizens are constantly worried about their own security and access to basic resources, they will be unable to devote their energies to participate in culture, business or politics. Canada remains a functional democracy because there is a belief in its institutions—and the ability of those institutions to anticipate and respond to emergencies.
The opioid crisis, climate change, hostile states, organized crime and domestic terrorism are among the biggest threats to public safety, health, and social concern in Canada. Fortunately, there is a robust emergency preparedness apparatus dedicated to neutralizing them, and a number of quality programs such as Wilfrid Laurier University’s Master of Public Safety degree available to train the protectors of tomorrow. In this article, we’ll be reviewing some key issues in public safety today.
As we’ve discussed on the blog before, Canada has strong urban fire codes that insulate most communities from the threat of devastating blazes like those which destroyed much of Chicago and San Francisco in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But as the vast wildfires that recently consumed Fort McMurray, Alberta and nearly 2 million acres of California woodland remind us, a distant spark can still have untold consequences.
Modern forest fires are largely the result of climatic shifts that are resulting in long, dry summers; short-sighted logging and reforestation activities that diminish natural firewalls; increased dead tree fuel; and greater residential construction in what had previously been wilderness areas. While wildfires are a natural occurrence in forested areas, authorities must now protect more homes in sectors prone to burning.
Public safety experts work closely with local fire and EMS; municipalities; hospitals and the military to ensure a coordinated response when conflagrations threaten communities, as well as engineering efforts to improve forestry practices and educate the public on how to properly maintain their campsites.
An unfortunate truth of living in the climate change era is that we have grown used to news of elemental disasters that would have seemed overwhelmingly significant in previous eras. According to the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, flooding has been sharply increasing since the 1970s, with the five most destructive floods in Canadian history all occurring since 2010.[i] The worst of these was the 2013 flood in Southern Alberta where a mixture of heavy rain and snow led numerous rivers to overflow, ultimately causing $2.72 billion in damages.
Glacial melt is causing water levels to rise around the world; even a difference of a few centimetres can have drastic effects on communities situated near waterways and coasts where the majority of human settlements are located. Scientists anticipate that widespread flooding is not likely to lessen any time soon and that it should be regarded as a fact of life in many areas.
Those working in emergency preparedness are focused on adapting to this fact. Efforts are being made to encourage regulatory changes with regard to building standards in floodplains so that new structures can better withstand the impact of rising water; infrastructure improvements to levees and breakwaters; and to educate the public on what they can do to prepare their homes for flooding.
While the public safety threats discussed earlier are natural responses to human activity, terrorism is of another nature. Although the spectre of international terrorism is more prominent in the news and popular culture thanks to the traumatic events of September 11th, 2001, domestic terrorists have historically been responsible for the vast majority of incidents in Canada. Tragedies such as the Quebec City mosque shooting of 2017, the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre and 2018’s Toronto van attack represent examples of Canadian citizens becoming radicalized and taking fatal action.
As in the United States, fringe political movements have been making inroads on mainstream discourse and picking up adherents, as have ideologies based on extremist interpretations of religion, racism and anti-feminism. These asymmetrical threats are particularly difficult for authorities to anticipate and counter, as they often result in individual rampages rather than coordinated attacks.
Public safety experts in Canada have managed to somewhat successfully mitigate this threat in comparison with the US by making small arms and munitions much more difficult to obtain. While the example of the van attack demonstrates that a committed attacker can still do great damage via conventional means, shootings remain by far the most common form of terrorist violence where handguns and automatic rifles are readily available.
Canadian police departments regularly drill to deal with active shooter situations, and there is persistent public pressure on the RCMP to further investigate far-right and incel communities to foil plots before they bear fruit. Meanwhile, EMS and hospitals work with public safety agencies to coordinate swift response to acts of mass violence, ensuring as many lives can be saved as possible.
Becoming a public safety leader
Laurier’s Graduate Diplomas in Public Safety offer active public safety professionals a chance to burnish their resume with a new credential; update their knowledge of the latest insights into specialties like Emergency Preparedness, Countering Crime, Border Strategies and GIS & Data Analytics; and to put their credits toward achieving a Master of Public Safety degree. To learn more about our program, please contact us today.