Municipal states of emergency: When and why we should declare in Oxford County
Our officials should declare a state of emergency, even if only to send a message to residents that our municipal government recognizes the severity of the COVID-19 situation and cares about our safety.
As more and more municipalities declare an emergency, some residents in Oxford County are questioning why hasn’t their community come to this decision.
It’s a fair question and hotly debated on some social media posts lately on whether a declaration really means anything - especially with Ontario having declared a provincial emergency. Some residents say the municipal government’s lack of a declaration means they don’t care or aren’t taking this crisis seriously enough.
Most recently, Guelph declared a municipal emergency and was the latest in regions along the 401/403 corridor. Waterloo Region, London, Elgin County and St. Thomas as well as the County of Brant have already done so.
It is difficult to conclude whether a declaration here is necessary without proper situational awareness, and operationally speaking, a declaration is likely not needed in our communities. As written in most of our municipal emergency plans, a declaration should be considered “when the resources of an Area Municipality become overextended, resulting in the inability to effectively control or support the emergency… emergency exceeds response and resource capabilities.”
Much of the County Emergency Response Plan is focused on resources, and fails to recognize the intricacies of this current pandemic. There are many other reasons beyond response and resource capabilities, to declare a state of emergency here in Oxford County.
Aside from maintaining public confidence in the municipal response, a declaration can allow officials to act quickly and enforce specific local actions without first getting approval from council.
"The legislations is fairly open, it says such actions or make orders that he or she considers necessary that are not contrary to the law and implement the regional emergency response plan," Waterloo Regional Chair Karen Redman is quoted in the news. She says it means they could have bylaw officers go around to make sure people are staying in their homes or close additional businesses that have been ordered by the province.
In other regions that have declared, they did so to emphasize the severity of the situation.
“In declaring a state of emergency, the primary goal is to ensure everyone takes the situation to heart,” said Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak in a news article ….”It’s increased the awareness… It demonstrates that we’re taking this seriously.”
In Vancouver: “These are unprecedented and challenging times, and these powers give us the ability to further protect our residents and businesses,” said Mayor Mary-Ann Booth. They are also under a provincial state of emergency.
Having dual declarations - one provincial and one municipal - aren’t redundant. In fact, having another level of government declare an emergency meets the “criteria that may indicate that a situation, actual or anticipated, warrants a declaration,” according to Emergency Management Ontario’s checklist. Other criteria to consider before a declaration include:
long term negative effects on a community’s economic viability/sustainability
attracting significant media attention
Is an extraordinary event
poses risk to lives and potential for large scale loss
threatens social order
Although Oxford County has reported only one confirmed positive case of COVID-19, there is a high probability of many more undetected cases in our region. Health officials have repeatedly asked us to assume there are more cases and adjust our actions accordingly by social distancing. So shouldn’t our government use that same reasoning and respond accordingly?
Either way, we are all in this together. A declaration of our lower-tier municipalities, at its simplest, could show solidarity with our upper-tier governments, an act of good faith and positive public relations.