Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness

In Canada, all levels of government are involved in preparing for and responding to an emergency or disaster. Municipal governments respond to local emergencies. Provincial and territorial governments respond to emergencies within their borders, but may ask for federal government assistance if the emergency exceeds their resources.

At the federal level, if assistance is requested or if the emergency involves more than one province or territory, the Government of Canada will mobilize its resources.

In the event of an emergency that poses a risk to public health, the Public Health Agency of Canada, under the co-ordination of Public Safety Canada and with other Government departments such as Health Canada, plays a key role in protecting the health and safety of Canadians. For example, Agency staff work closely with Health Canada experts in areas such as blood safety and chemical, biological and radio-nuclear emergencies. They also work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on food safety.

The Agency's bioterrorism and emergency response responsibilities include:

  • developing and maintaining national emergency response plans, such as the National Smallpox Contingency Plan;
  • managing the Quarantine Service, which enforces the Quarantine Act at Canadian border crossings and ports of entry;
  • developing laboratory protocols for testing for potential biologic terrorism agents and training the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network in their use;
  • developing protocols and rapid diagnostic tests for bioterrorist agents and providing these tests to the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network;
  • maintaining a deployable laboratory capacity, including mobile equipment, and Microbiological Emergency Response Teams ready to quickly deploy across Canada or abroad;
  • acting as the focal point for Canada's National Emergency Response Assistance Plan for the transportation of Human Risk Group IV agents (e.g., ebola, marburg, nipah, crimean-congo hemorrhagic fever)
  • monitoring disease outbreaks and global disease events through the Global Public Health Intelligence Network;
  • managing the National Emergency Stockpile System, a $330 million system that provides emergency medical supplies and pharmaceuticals quickly to provinces and territories when requested;
  • working with provinces, territories and local public health authorities to ensure that front-line health workers have the tools to deal with, identify, and diagnose an event requiring emergency medical supplies; and
  • establishing emergency medical response surge capacity, in the form of Health Emergency Response Teams, to assist provinces, territories and other jurisdictions, upon their request, in relieving the effects of medical and health major disasters.

Emergency Operations Centres

The Public Health Agency of Canada works closely with Health Canada, the Department of National Defence and Public Safety Canada as part of a system of Emergency Operation Centres (EOCs) that may be mobilized in response to calls for emergency assistance from provincial and territorial governments, from other parts of the Government of Canada as well as from other international health organizations. The entire system is linked to the government-wide Emergency Management Response System managed by Public Safety Canada.

The EOC system features:

  • “user-friendly” communication capacity including satellite, cellular, two-way radios and land line phone connections to facilitate communicating with anyone anywhere, as well as being able to divert incoming calls to other crisis management centres;
  • smart boards and writeable walls for collecting and sharing data;
  • capability of communicating and displaying information directly from other emergency response centres worldwide;
  • video displays that have the capacity of displaying video images from workstations, portable laptops, video conference system, DVD, VCR, document camera;
  • media monitoring capabilities;
  • emergency management software to assist in the effective management of all phases of a crisis;
  • telephones with visual display to interface with audio and visual media in room; and
  • extensive emergency back up power supplies.

The EOCs can operate at four levels

Level 1 - (Normal readiness) EOC staff carry out day-to-day routine business and the facility is available for emergency training exercises, meetings and ongoing surveillance activities.

Level 2 - (Increased vigilance) Normal activities continue to be carried out, but EOC staff begin monitoring an evolving situation. Contingency plans are reviewed and personnel are put on stand-by.

Level 3 - (Partial activation) Ongoing surveillance is increased and some partial staffing may occur.

Level 4 - (Full activation) The Public Health Agency of Canada's Emergency Response Plan is activated. The number of staff in the EOCs is expanded and can provide up to 24/7 support.

Working With Our Partners

The Public Health Agency of Canada has partnerships and working relationships with a number of international, federal/provincial/territorial and local organizations. Together, the combined expertise provides a stronger, more effective response to emergency situations. Examples of these partnerships:

  • Canada plays a lead role in the Global Health Security Action Group to improve public health preparedness and response to possible incidents of chemical, biological and radio-nuclear terrorism. This group includes the G7 countries, Mexico, the European Commission and the World Health Organization.
  • The Agency, with other Government of Canada departments and the U.K., took part in a U.S.-led counter-terrorism exercise called TopOff3. This exercise was designed to familiarize senior officials with the issues associated with a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction, and helped participants practise their roles and responsibilities in a bio-terrorism event.
  • The Agency worked with the World Health Organization to develop and implement the Global Public Health Intelligence Network - a secure internet-based “early warning” system that gathers information about potential public health issues worldwide, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats, on a “real-time”, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week basis. This unique multilingual system gathers and provides relevant information by monitoring global media sources in seven languages - Arabic, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
  • The Agency is a partner on many projects being funded by the Government of Canada's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Research and Technology Initiative to improve Canada's preparedness for and response to terrorist activities.
  • With its Canadian partners, the Agency has set up a new Canadian Bioterrorism Lab Response Network, with the Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory at the hub. The primary goal of this Canada-wide network is to ensure that local, provincial and federal labs can quickly test and identify unknown agents.
  • The Agency also continues to work within a federal/provincial/territorial Network on Emergency Preparedness and Response to strengthen the capacity throughout the country to deal with any national health emergency.

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