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Military will likely need more help with natural disaster response, DND says

With wildfires and flooding raging across the country this summer, hundreds of members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been called in to help with provincial emergencies – but they will likely need help to keep it going. do, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defense told iPolitics this week..

“WWe expect requests for assistance to increase, depending on the availability of provincial emergency resources, ”the spokesperson said in an email response. “This is consistent with the increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, both at home and abroad.”

Provincial emergency management organizations are the first to respond, but they can call in the military if they are overwhelmed.

“WWe expect that the need for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) support for missions (Operation Lentus) will continue to increase at a constant rate in the medium to long term, which will result in an increased need for resources, ”he said. declared the spokesperson.

Operation Lentus is the CAF’s mission to respond to natural disasters.

While the military expects more deployments to require more resources, it is difficult to know when and how.

As the nature of the missions (of Operation Lentus) is unpredictable, there is no way to say exactly how or when this might impact our resources, ”the spokesperson said. “CAF’s requests for assistance are not predictable and therefore no amount is planned or set aside in advance. “

The cost of disaster relief has fluctuated wildly since 2013, according to figures provided to iPolitics by the Department of National Defense (DND).

In fiscal year 2017-18, thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles were sent across the country to help six provinces deal with ice storms, floods and wildfires, according to a ministry. breakdown. DND spent $ 14 million on incremental costs, which are costs attributable to a specific mission.

In fiscal year 2014-2015, however, natural disaster relief cost the ministry just under $ 150,000.

While DND cannot predict with certainty how much future deployments will cost, it anticipates “more cyclical events,” the spokesperson said. These include the seasons of fires and floods, said Jonathan Vance, former Chief of the Defense Staff, speaking to the House Defense Committee in 2018.

The CAF plans for cyclical events, such as floods and forest fires, including such things as forecasting critical areas and assessing capacity gaps, ”the spokesperson said.

This planning includes “the identification, preparation and pre-positioning of Forces, facilitators and reserves (who) would be required to respond to fire, flood, natural disaster and the routing of goods.” humanitarian aid ”, as well as“ computer simulations, planning conferences, teleconferences, tabletop exercises, field simulations, etc. “Said the spokesperson.

The use of the military for more and more natural disasters is a source of concern, said Lt. Gen. Wayne Eyre, acting chief of staff, talk to the canadian press Last year. If this continues to be commonplace, which the ministry said it expects, it could hamper the military’s combat readiness, Eyre said.

Despite the expected increase and four deployments to date in 2021, the CAF is still ready to fight, the spokesperson said..

Although the increase in natural disasters has had an impact on the number of missions (Operation Lentus) performed by the CAF, it has not yet affected our combat readiness, ”they said.

“Mincentives are always in place to ensure that CAF support on the international stage, both for combat and non-combat missions, never suffers, ”the spokesperson said.

“This includes relying more heavily on the Reserve Force for domestic operations, at times, or working with federal and provincial partners to ensure the most efficient use of CAF resources here at home. “

The more frequent use of reserves has not changed the structure of the reserve forces, “nor the way they train or are employed, but simply the frequency with which they are called,” said the spokesperson.

The military response to more natural disasters is also of concern to Adam MacDonald, member of the International Council of Canada, who wrote a test on the subject for the Institute of the Conference of Defense Associations.

There is a “growing trend for the military (increasingly responding to national and) localized environmental disasters, which are expected to increase, given climate change,” he told iPolitics.

MacDonald worries “that this is already built into what the military was going to do in the future, without really thinking politically about whether or not we want the military to do it,” he said. declared.

As climate change continues to cause large-scale natural disasters and the military expects the military to continue to assist, MacDonald has suggested two solutions, without explicitly arguing for either. ‘other.

The first is that army reserves play a more active role in emergency management.

“I don’t think it’s realistic for a number of reasons,” he said. “Number 1 is that the reserve is a force of volunteers,” and volunteers might not want to fight fires or other disasters.

The second is that reserves are trained to do the same job as regular forces, so playing a more active role in emergency management could take time compared to training to replace regular forces when deployed overseas. , did he declare.

The other option is to create a new department, similar to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States, which is explicitly responsible for responding to disasters.

“This is the question, ‘do we need to build capacity and expertise to (deal with) the increasing likelihood of natural disasters and other national problems? ”Said MacDonald.

“This is where the FEMA structure could work, but it could be a bit difficult, given that each province has their own emergency management organization, so there could be (battles) over who is in charge. enough to.”

Helping provinces deal with natural disasters is a core function of the CAF, as defined in the 2017 Defense Ministry report. policy document, “Strong, secure and committed”.

The use of CAF members to help provinces is increasingly common, says analysis by military experts Christian Leuprecht and Peter Kasurak for the Center for International Governance Innovation.

From 1996 to 2006, the CAF was deployed on 12 weather-related missions. Between 2007 and 2016, this number rose to 20.

From 2017 to 2019 alone, the CAF was mobilized for 15 missions.

In a mission last year dubbed Operation Laser, the CAF even helped long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario that were overwhelmed by COVID. Other than this effort, the CAF has only been deployed to the provinces once: to help Newfoundland and Labrador weather a major snowstorm in January 2020.

In 2021, the army has so far been deployed in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia to fight forest fires, and in the Yukon to help protect against flooding.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.

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