Thursday, September 29, 2005

Can Canada Handle a Disaster?

Now that the U.S. fallout from Katrina and Rita is over (except for some finger-pointing), it's time to ask whether Canada's armed forces could play the same role as the National Guard, should a natural disaster happen here.

Jack Granatstein isn't sure; he's co-written a report on the state of Canada's reserve forces, which can be found here (PDF format; Adobe Reader required).

While the report reads pretty much the same as any report on the CF written in the past 20 years (i.e. the CF needs more money and newer equipment), the relevant passages are found on pages 20 and 21:

The Army Reserve has been pro-active in the Domestic Operations role, designating unit commanding officers or Militia brigade commanders to do community-level contingency planning or, in other words, to establish links with the civil authorities and prepare security platoons; Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) platoons; and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN)teams to work with them. In addition, as many as 120 community planning officers will be based in cities and towns to work with the civilian authorities.23 One practice demonstration of CBRN potential in the Army Reserve, for example, was held successfully in downtown Ottawa in November, 2004.

Unfortunately, the Army Reserve has not been successful in persuading the Air and Naval Reserve organizations to cooperate with it in planning for these tasks, although all Reserve components did cooperate in Y2K preparations and some Naval Divisions have struck informal working arrangements with the Army Reserve).

This is deeply disturbing ...

That's certainly an understatement. Talking about his report, Mr. Granatstein was pretty blunt:

"What plans (exist) if B.C. has a major earthquake? What plans (are there) if a tsunami hits the East Coast?" said Granatstein.

"Can you really get equipment and people and help to us any faster than what happened in New Orleans, where the Americans have all kinds of resources?"

The last time I can remember our local Naval Reserve being deployed on a natural disaster were the Manitoba floods of 1997 and the Ottawa ice storm of 1998. These were serious, but nowhere near the scale of Katrina or Rita. I'd have to check what was done for Halifax during Hurricane Juan, but because we had plenty of warning for that one I'm pretty sure the local forces weren't as overwhelmed as they were in New Orleans.

Check out the report. It's the type of thing Canada needs to think about more seriously.