Saint John EMO prepares for COVID-19 impact on emergency response

Saint John’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) is preparing for the impact COVID-19 may have on its ability to respond to emergencies in the region.

The Saint John EMO brings together police, fire and other emergency services in order to provide a coordinated response to a major event, like a large fire, flooding, hostage situations, and evacuations.

Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford, also the director of the Saint John EMO, said standard procedure in responding to an emergency has been to gather key responders at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in uptown Saint John, construct a plan and provide assistance.

But COVID-19 may change that.

Clifford believes it’s “only a matter of time” before the virus arrives in the region.

“If it comes to a case that we do have many people affected one way or another, just simply self-assessing, staying away, the reality is we may not be able to get in (the Emergency Operations Centre),” Clifford said. “The virus may have an impact to the point that we may not be able to coordinate through this room.”

Keeping that in mind, Clifford has organized what he’s called a “virtual activation,” which will bring together four members of a command response group and four “section chiefs” through a web-based conferencing program. Eight people in eight different locations.

Clifford said the goal is to be able to activate the EOC and run it remotely using their technology. He said any presence of COVID-19 may be a deterrent to meeting in person, and it may impact overall staffing levels when responding to emergencies.

He said the EOC has never been activated remotely, so he wants to make sure the technology works.

“We’re, what, six weeks out, perhaps four weeks out from perhaps another flood event?” he began. “We want to make sure if the virus is in town, and we have a reduced workforce, for whatever reason, we have a number of people impacted, that we can operate in an environment where we may have a reduced workforce. Whereby, we can’t bring people together.”

Meantime, municipal operations relating to travel are now being impacted in this region. Both the City of Saint John and Town of Quispamsis say they have aligned themselves with a provincial directive, and have suspended out-of-province travel for staff until further notice.


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