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Emergency management and disaster response

Municipal governments play a central role in emergency management. Although the federal and provincial governments actively engage in emergency planning, operational measures to address emergencies and their impacts are implemented locally. Local officials are often the first to respond to emergencies—which means that municipalities must have plans and resources in place to respond effectively to emergencies within their borders.

What is an emergency?

As described under Alberta’s Emergency Management Act, an emergency is an event that requires prompt co-ordination of action or special regulation of persons or property to protect the safety, health or welfare of people, or to limit damage to property.

Some emergencies such as house fires happen frequently with localized impact. Others, such as floods and ice storms, are less common but have severe consequences on the community and the environment. Some emergencies, such as hurricanes, are predictable and offer time to prepare. Others, such as major traffic accidents and spills of hazardous material are unexpected and give no warning.

The number, intensity, and consequences of emergencies and disasters—both in terms of people affected and financial costs—are increasing.

Emergency management

Emergency management is a risk management activity with the goal of creating safe, secure and disaster resilient communities. The core elements of emergency management are:

  • Prevention and mitigation
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Disaster response, and
  • Disaster recovery.

The foundation of emergency management is the identification and assessment of the hazards and risks to public safety that could cause emergencies.

Disaster prevention and mitigation

Prevention and mitigation are the things that communities do to prevent an emergency from happening and, if it does, to mitigate or reduce the impact.

Prevention and mitigation includes structural measures (e.g. building reinforcement, infrastructure renewal) and non-structural measures (e.g. community awareness and education, developing by-laws).

As costs of disasters continue to rise, governments at all levels must find ways to reduce hazard risks to communities. Investment in prevention and mitigation before an emergency will reduce the cost of recovering afterwards.


  • Public symposiums: covers Alberta's progress to improve its flood and drought resiliency, including the role of natural solutions
  • Community mitigation projects: examples of provincial projects that reduce the risks associated with flooding
  • Glossary: commonly-used emergency management terms

Emergency preparedness

Having an emergency plan in place ensures that a municipality is prepared for, can respond to, and can recover from a disaster.

Alberta’s Community Emergency Management Program

Alberta’s Community Emergency Management Program (CEMP) provides municipalities with more accessible and user-friendly emergency planning tools. CEMP is an online tool that enables emergency management planning and response at both the individual municipal and regional levels. CEMP provides communities access to four essential emergency management modules:

  • Community Self-Assessment tool, which helps municipalities inventory their existing emergency management capacity and ability to respond to emergencies.
  • Community Risk Assessment tool, which utilizes the Hazard Identification Risk Assessment (HIRA) methodology adopted by the United Nations. This helps municipalities identify the likelihood of risks and prioritize mitigation actions/response. As communities use the HIRA tool, they will generate data that will assist in the completion of an all-hazards risk assessment for the province.
  • Community Emergency Management Plan, which outlines processes, guidelines and templates for municipalities’ use. The Plan is user-driven whereby providing information and responding to questions will help to populate the plans.
  • Document Library, which includes best practices, research reports, terminology, information about roles and responsibilities and sample emergency plans.

CEMP is password protected through the Municipal Affairs Connect Portal and access is provided to municipal employees involved in the Emergency Management process (often Directors of Emergency Management).

To request a username and password, contact the Alberta Emergency Management Agency by sending an email.


Disaster response

At all times, local authorities in Alberta’s municipalities are responsible for managing the first response to an emergency event. When an emergency event exceeds the capabilities of a municipal response or there is a significant threat to life and property, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency coordinates the Government of Alberta’s support to the municipality by linking them with resources to help manage the event.

Services to community and industry stakeholders include emergency and response planning advice and support, public awareness and prevention program support, conflict resolution support, emergency preparedness planning and support and specific emergency management and technical guidance.


Disaster recovery

Disaster recovery is the process by which a community returns the emotional, social, economic and physical well-being to their normal state of functioning after an emergency occurs. Initially, efforts focus on meeting the immediate needs of those affected for housing, food and water. As homes and businesses are repaired, people return to work and communities continue with cleanup and rebuilding.

The effects of a disaster depend on the type, severity and duration of the event. Disaster recovery is a joint undertaking amongst government agencies, voluntary organizations, and the private sector cooperating to provide assistance and support.