Category Archives: Canada

New Brunswick | Review of data centre power interruption – government’s IT systems still at risk in the event of power outages

In her latest report to the legislative assembly, auditor general Kim MacPherson raised concerns over the capacity of the provincial government to adequately protect its IT systems in the event of power outages and to safeguard against disasters that may affect the delivery of critical government services.

Her work examined the events surrounding a power outage on June 9, 2014 and the failure of all three of the main components of the government’s Marysville Data Centre backup power. On that day, the government mainframe computer and multiple servers failed, disrupting many government departments and affecting services to New Brunswickers. The review also examined the current state of power-related IT risks.

“Access to government services is essential. Back-up systems must be able to take over when power outages occur in the province,” said MacPherson. “The current exposure to risks that we observed during our work is not acceptable.”

The report found that risk assessments had identified the vulnerability of the backup power system at the data centre as early as 2009. While some progress was made with regard to prior recommendations, efforts by government to mitigate outage risks are still insufficient: there is some business continuity planning in departments, but no consensus on the appropriate strategic direction at the corporate level. Moreover, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) does not have authority to direct departments to align with overarching corporate-level strategic goals.

“It is unclear where central authority lies to implement government-wide upgrades to IT systems and equipment. Without an explicit directive from government, significant changes to IT infrastructure may not be possible,” said MacPherson.

The report makes several recommendations, including that the OCIO define roles and responsibilities related to a corporate IT strategic plan for all departments and take recommendations to cabinet to ensure that strategic goals are aligned.

The full report Data Centre Power Interruption can be found in Volume two of today’s report, which also contains other performance reports completed during 2014. Volume one focuses on matters arising from the annual financial audit of the Province and Crown agencies. Both volumes are available online at www.agnb-vgnb.ca.

New Brunswick | Ebola Rapid Response Team conducts planning exercise with provincial public health officials

Health Minister Victor Boudreau and chief medical officer of health Dr. Eilish Cleary met with the federal government’s chief public health officer Dr. Gregory Taylor today to launch a joint planning exercise involving provincial health officials and the federal Ebola virus disease Rapid Response Team.

“Planning and preparedness for a possible first case of Ebola in New Brunswick or Canada requires federal, provincial and territorial collaboration,” said Boudreau. “Today’s meeting with Dr. Taylor, members of the Rapid Response Team and our senior health care officials demonstrates the ability of all levels of government and of various agencies to work together for timely and effective preparedness and response to events of significance to public health.”

This is the latest in a series of meetings and joint exercises between the Rapid Response Team and provincial and territorial health officials to further strengthen and refine the country’s domestic planning and co-ordination efforts. The exercise, hosted by New Brunswick, tested various components of the province’s public health response including communication, biosafety, infection prevention and control, laboratory response, epidemiology and surveillance, and emergency operations in the event of an Ebola case.

“The Government of Canada continues to work closely with its partners in health to ensure we are as prepared as possible in the event of a first case, and Canada’s Ebola Rapid Response Teams are an essential component of our collaborative Ebola planning,” said Taylor. “Canada is fortunate to have a flexible, nimble model for rapid Ebola response, one that can deploy without hesitation when requested and adjust to varying needs from community to community.”

Taylor also thanked the provincial government for its contributions to the global fight against Ebola in West Africa. In October 2014, the provincial government, in co-ordination with the Public Health Agency of Canada, donated $425,000 worth of surplus personal protective equipment to the World Health Organization.

Provincial and territorial health authorities, health-care organizations, and associations across Canada have undertaken extensive planning and preparation activities since the Ebola outbreak began in Africa. However, containing the spread of an infectious disease like Ebola requires collaboration across all levels of government and the health sector. Given that operational needs in each provincial and territorial jurisdiction may differ, planning exercises are an important component to ensuring mutual preparedness.

“Canada remains at the forefront of the fight against Ebola in West Africa,” said federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose. “We are working diligently with our provincial and territorial partners to support readiness across the country. While we have not had an Ebola case we must be prepared, and we will continue to take all steps necessary to protect Canadians and ensure we are able to respond quickly and effectively.”

In addition to launching today’s exercise, Taylor and Cleary also met to discuss Cleary’s recent mission to Nigeria and Sierra Leone where she provided expertise in infectious disease prevention and control as an advisor to the World Health Organization’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Cleary’s lessons learned from her on-the-ground experience will contribute to Canada’s own domestic preparedness.

Nova Scotia | Medal of Bravery nominations now open

Nova Scotians have a chance to honour those who have put themselves at risk to help others.

Nominations are open for Nova Scotia’s Medal of Bravery. This is the eighth year for the award.

“This award is our way of thanking Nova Scotians who have gone above and beyond, in order to help those in need,” said Premier Stephen McNeil. “It’s a privilege to recognize these courageous individuals. If you know someone who deserves this honour, I encourage you to take the time to nominate them.”

Nomination forms are available at Access Nova Scotia centres, offices of members of the legislative assembly and at www.novascotia.ca/bravery . The deadline for nominations is May 1.

Only acts of bravery that occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2007, will be considered under the Nova Scotia Medal of Bravery Act.

An advisory panel, chaired by retired brigadier-general Remi Saulnier, will select the recipients.

Other committee members are:
— CEO of the Emergency Management Office
— deputy minister of Justice
— Nova Scotia Fire Marshal
— president of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association
— commander of Land Force Atlantic Area
— Cynthia Stevenson, member at large
— Jim Hoskins, member at large

Completed nomination forms should be sent to: Provincial Secretary, Medal of Bravery, Department of Justice, 7th floor, 1690 Hollis St., Halifax, N.S., B3J 2L6.

Newfoundland and Labrador | Severe weather conditions throughout the region

Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador (FES-NL) encourages residents to be cautious around coastlines and waterways over the coming days as there is a potential for elevated water levels due to storm surge, large waves and pounding surf associated with a weather system forecast to affect the province on Sunday, January 25.

According to Environment Canada, an intense low pressure system is forecast to develop over the southeastern United States tonight, then track northeastward along the eastern seaboard on Saturday. This low is expected to track through the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Sunday before moving over the Labrador Sea later in the day. This system is expected to bring significant rain, snow, and very strong winds to the island portion of the province beginning overnight Saturday and persisting into Sunday. A combination of storm surge and large waves will cause elevated water levels along the south and west coasts on early Sunday afternoon, especially during high tide.

Municipalities and local service districts should ensure infrastructure such as roads, ditches and drains are clear of debris and appropriate provisions are made for the delivery of services in the event the weather has a greater effect than anticipated.

Residents are reminded to follow the latest weather forecast for further alert bulletins and to take measures to ensure personal safety. More information regarding weather forecasts and warnings can be found at weather.gc.ca/warnings/index_e.html?prov=nl . Information regarding general emergency preparedness is available at   www.getprepared.ca

PEI | Govt supports Red Cross health equipment loan program

Red Cross volunteers Jan and Brad Barnes welcome Government's support for the Health Equipment Loan Program.
Red Cross volunteers Jan and Brad Barnes welcome Government’s support for the Health Equipment Loan Program.

Brad and Jan Barnes had their trip to an RV show in West Virginia all planned for September 2001.

Little did they know the fateful date they had chosen would change the course of history – and their own lives so much.

Being in the United States after the worst terrorist attack in history the Barnes were enlisted for disaster relief by the International Red Cross.

They were recruited at their campsite when the disaster team was rounding the troops.

Fast forward more than a decade later and they’re retired in Prince Edward Island where they continue to help people in need, now as volunteers for the local Red Cross health equipment loan program, which is sponsored by the Government of Prince Edward Island.

The Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP), is a national program of the Canadian Red Cross that provides health equipment to individuals dealing with illness or injury.

The Prince Edward Island government has committed $200,000 to get the program off the ground here and help empower thousands of people each year to live more independently.

The Barnes are happy to be able to give their time to help.

“It doesn’t take a lot of your time and it is the right thing to do,” Jan Barnes said.

The former Ontario residents who have retired to St. Peter’s Bay spend about four hours a week doing everything from fixing and cleaning the equipment to marketing the program.

“We aren’t that far – God forbid – from needing some of that equipment,” Jan said.

The program assists seniors with mobility issues, allows people to return home from hospital earlier, and supports those in palliative care who wish to spend their final days in the comfort of their own home.

For anyone who needs medical equipment to live safely at home, the Red Cross provides aids such as:

  • Wheelchairs
  • Walkers
  • Bath seats and benches
  • Commodes and toilet seats
  • Crutches and canes
  • Bed handles
  • Other durable medical equipment

For more information visit the Red Cross Website and learn about the Health Equipment Loan Program.

USA | Protection from flu vax reduced to only 23 percent this season

A report published in the January 16 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) estimates that getting a flu vaccine this season reduced a person’s risk of having to go to the doctor because of flu by 23 percent among people of all ages.

Since CDC began conducting annual flu vaccine effectiveness (VE) studies in 2004-2005, overall estimates for each season have ranged from 10 percent to 60 percent effectiveness in preventing medical visits associated with seasonal influenza illness. The MMWR report says this season’s vaccine offers reduced protection and this underscores the need for additional prevention and treatment efforts this season, including the appropriate use of influenza antiviral medications for treatment.

“Physicians should be aware that all hospitalized patients and all outpatients at high risk for serious complications should be treated as soon as possible with one of three available influenza antiviral medications if influenza is suspected, regardless of a patient’s vaccination status and without waiting for confirmatory testing,” says Joe Bresee, branch chief in CDC’s Influenza Division. “Health care providers should advise patients at high risk to call promptly if they get symptoms of influenza.”

One factor that determines how well a flu vaccine works is the similarity between the flu viruses used in vaccine production and the flu viruses actually circulating. During seasons when vaccine viruses and circulating influenza viruses are well matched, VE between 50 and 60 percent has been observed. H3N2 viruses have been predominant so far this season, but about 70 percent of them have been different or have “drifted” from the H3N2 vaccine virus. This likely accounts for the reduced VE.

Flu viruses change constantly and the drifted H3N2 viruses did not appear until after the vaccine composition for the Northern Hemisphere had been chosen.

Another factor that influences how well the flu vaccine works is the age and health of the person being vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best in young, healthy people and is less effective in people 65 and older. This pattern is reflected in the current season early estimates for VE against H3N2 viruses. VE against H3N2 viruses was highest — 26 percent — for children age 6 months through 17 years. While not statistically significant, VE estimates against H3N2 viruses for other age groups were 12 percent for ages 18 to 49 years and 14 percent for people age 50 years and older.

CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine even during season’s when drifted viruses are circulating because vaccination can still prevent some infections and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalization and death. Also, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against three or four influenza viruses and some of these other viruses may circulate later in the season. Flu activity so far this season has been similar to the 2012-2013 flu season, a “moderately severe” flu season with H3N2 viruses predominating.

Antiviral Supply Update

While manufacturers of antiviral medications have stated that there is no national shortage of antiviral medications at this time, and that there is sufficient product available to meet high demand, there are anecdotal reports of spot shortages of these drugs. CDC’s advice for patients and doctors is that it may be necessary to contact more than one pharmacy to fill a prescription for an antiviral medication. Pharmacies that are having difficulty getting orders filled should contact their distributor or the manufacturer directly.

For large institutional outbreaks this season, CDC is taking new measures to help match demand with supply, working with commercial partners to facilitate filling of large orders of antivirals for long-term care facilities or institutions having difficulty accessing antiviral supplies in outbreak settings. More information is available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/supply.htm.

Ontario | Toronto continues to update emergency response planning since 2013 ice storm

December 21 and 22 marked the anniversary of the 2013 ice storm, an extreme winter storm that produced freezing rain, ice pellets and severe wind. The storm, which at one point affected almost one million Torontonians, resulted in widespread power outages, damaged properties, a devastated tree canopy and disrupted municipal services.

Since the storm, the City of Toronto has made significant enhancements to its emergency response plans and has been working with its agencies and external partners to ensure that Toronto is prepared for severe weather emergencies in the future.

The following is an update on the progress the City has made based on the recommendations from the independent review and the Council reports on the 2013 ice storm.

City of Toronto’s Emergency Plan

The City’s Emergency Plan has been updated and reflects the improvements City divisions have made to their processes and procedures based on the experience gained from the severe weather events in 2013, including the December’s ice storm and the July 2013 rain storm.The City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has also made a number of updates to various Emergency Support Function Plans addressing how key functional areas, such as solid waste management, transportation services, paramedic services and communications operate during an emergency.

More information about the City’s Emergency Plan is available at http://bit.ly/1GPPKwQ.

Emergency reception centres

The OEM in co-ordination with Parks, Forestry and Recreation has identified four City-owned recreation facilities, one in each district, to be used as pre-planned emergency reception centres.

In the event of an emergency, the four emergency reception centres will provide evacuees with emergency food and clothing, temporary emergency shelter/lodgings, urgent personal supplies, health care support, social services supports, assistance with service animals and pets, and information and referrals if needed. The emergency reception centres will also offer integrated assistance for vulnerable populations. Translation services will be provided if required.

The four identified facilities will be capable of providing full lodging services. The equipment needed for the emergency reception centres will be stored onsite to ensure that in the event of an emergency, staff will have the ability to quickly and efficiently set up the emergency reception centres when needed. These reception centres will have access to backup power during an emergency.

Locations of the four pre-identified emergency reception centres:

  • East – Agincourt Recreation Centre
  • South – Wellesley Recreation Centre
  • North – Edithvale Recreation Centre
  • West – Thistletown Recreation Centre

 

The City has developed manuals, and policies and procedures to assist staff who are trained to open of emergency reception centres in the event of an emergency.

In larger scale emergencies, the City will have the capacity to open additional reception centres.

Warming centres

In addition to the emergency reception centres, during an emergency and depending on the time of year, the City will have the ability to open warming centres or cooling centres. Specific facilities would be identified at the time of the emergency, based on the location(s) of affected residents. Facilities that would be identified as possible warming or cooling centres include City-owned community centres, police stations, libraries and schools. The warming or cooling centres would be drop-in only and would be staffed by the City and the Canadian Red Cross.

Emergency Social Services Working Group

The Emergency Social Services Working Group has been established, with approved terms of reference to improve and increase vulnerable residents access to City services during an emergency.

The Emergency Social Services Working Group includes staff representatives from 13 City divisions and two City agencies:

· Children’s Services

· Employment and Social Services

· Human Resources

· Long-Term Care Homes and Services

· Municipal Licensing & Standards

· Office of Emergency Management

· Parks, Forestry and Recreation

· Toronto Public Health

· Shelter, Support and Housing Administration

· Social Development, Finance & Administration

· Toronto Paramedic Services

· Toronto Office of Partnerships

· 311 Toronto

· Toronto Public Library

· Toronto Community Housing

The working group is currently focusing on the July 2014 Council direction with respect to improving working relationships with the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network and other community based agencies to better assist the city’s vulnerable populations. In 2015, the working group will look to further these partnerships and a broader survey is planned for next year to better understand the responsibilities of these community agencies and their services during an emergency.

City of Toronto and Canadian Red Cross Memorandum of Understanding

In May 2014, the City signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Canadian Red Cross. The Red Cross has agreed to assist the City with providing emergency social services to residents who may become displaced during an emergency.

Toronto Hydro

In March, the City of Toronto and Toronto Hydro conducted an independent review to assess Toronto Hydro’s response to the 2013 ice storm. The report from the independent review is available at http://bitly.com/1pLKtCC

The City and Toronto Hydro are working together to assess and review a number of recommendations from the July 2014 Council decision, including examining current line clearing programs to effectively manage the potential impact of trees in close proximity to hydro lines, reviewing the possibility of construction of underground powerlines in new development areas, and identifying potential conversion of overhead lines to underground lines where possible.

Toronto Hydro has also created a new power outage section on Toronto Hydro’s website along with a mobile application. The web has an enhanced section on outage information; report an outage online forms and emergency preparedness. The site also includes an emergency preparedness guide translated in to Chinese, Spanish, Somali, Tamil and Urdu.

Toronto Hydro will report back to City Council in June 2015 on its implementation plans based on the independent review panel’s recommendations.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation

Urban Forestry is responsible for the maintenance of approximately 4.1 million trees located on streets, in parklands and in ravines and other natural areas. The significant accumulation of ice that occurred on trees during the 2013 winter storm that occurred in the evening of December 21 and the next day resulted in unprecedented damage to trees.

Urban Forestry’s response to the ice storm unfolded in three phases:

– initial response in co-operation with Toronto Hydro to remove trees and tree limbs that were affecting power lines, blocking roads, or posed a safety concern;

– Hazard Abatement, which included tree inspections and prioritized work to make trees safe and eliminate hazards, and

– Hidden Hazard Cleanup which was completed in November and included a detailed assessment of the structural integrity of street trees and select trees in parklands to identity hidden tree hazards. Structurally compromised trees were addressed and expedited tree maintenance was conducted. Non-emergency tree work is scheduled to be completed through Urban Forestry’s area maintenance program.

Data has been collected and is currently being analyzed to confirm the impact of the storm and for the purpose of planning long term recovery of the urban forest.

Urban Forestry is currently working with Toronto Hydro to review line clearing programs and identify opportunities to enhance co-ordination of activities to manage the potential impact of trees in close proximity to power lines. Urban Forestry is also working to improve co-ordination and communication during emergency situations.

Solid Waste Management Services

The city-wide cleanup operation after the ice storm was led by Solid Waste Management Services. It involved co-ordinating a multi-divisional team and a variety of external contracted services, that worked together to quickly restore mobility and safety to city streets and parks.

Since the ice storm, Solid Waste Management Services and the OEM have developed an Emergency Support Function to clearly outline the management of debris caused by an emergency. Under this Emergency Support Function, Solid Waste Management Services will work with other City divisions to expedite debris cleanup, and to restore and resume services quickly after an emergency.

Transportation Services

Transportation Services has established criteria to determine Toronto’s highest priority intersections during an emergency. The division has identified 85 of the city’s highest priority traffic control signal locations and has been working in coordination with Toronto Police Services on the development of emergency response protocols to ensure that police officers are available to direct and control the city’s highest priority traffic intersections during an emergency.

Transportation Services has started to install reflectors on traffic signals to ensure better visibility during a power outage.

311 Toronto

Staff are in the final stages of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding between 311 Toronto and Toronto Hydro that will integrate a two-way communication system between 311 Toronto and Toronto Hydro’s call centre.

311 Toronto has also developed an online outage reporting strategy to enable 311 Toronto to log outage reports for customers.

Council reports

A number of reports on the City and its agencies emergency response by the City and its agenices to the December ice storm have been considered by City Council in 2014, including:

Ontario | Toronto – Extreme Cold Alert – seek shelter, check on loved ones

Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, has issued an Extreme Cold Weather Alert today for Toronto that will be in effect until further notice.

Exposure to cold weather can be harmful to your health. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 35°C and can have severe consequences, including organ failure and death. Frostnip and frostbite can also occur in cold weather when skin freezes.

During extreme cold weather, residents are encouraged to call or visit vulnerable friends, neighbours and family to ensure they are not experiencing any difficulties related to the weather. Those most at risk of cold-related illness are people who work outdoors, people with a pre-existing heart conditions or respiratory illness, those taking certain medications, infants and young children, and those who are homeless. People with heart problems can experience worsening of their condition up to several days after cold weather occurs.

During an Extreme Cold Weather Alert, members of the public are encouraged to take the following precautions;
• Dress in layers, making sure your outer layer is windproof, and cover exposed skin.
• Wear a hat, warm mittens or gloves, and warm boots.
• Stay dry. Your risk of hypothermia is much greater if you are wet.
• Choose wool or synthetic fabrics for your clothes instead of cotton, because cotton stops keeping you warm once it gets wet.
• Seek shelter if you normally spend long periods outside. Depending on the wind chill, exposed skin can freeze in minutes.
• Avoid alcohol as it increases blood flow. You may feel warm even though you are losing body heat.
• Consider rescheduling outdoor activities, or limiting time outdoors, especially if it’s windy.
• Heat your home to at least 21ºC if babies or elderly people are present.

If you see someone on the street that needs outreach assistance – which may include a shelter bed due to the cold temperatures, call 311. For medical emergencies, call 911.

More information and tips to staying warm during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts are available at toronto.ca/health.

British Columbia | Avian influenza virus sequencing confirms highly pathogenic H5N2

Scientists at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (NCFAD) have confirmed that the virus detected in BC poultry is highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N2.

This virus contains gene segments from the highly pathogenic Eurasian H5N8 virus, including the H5 gene, and segments from typical North American viruses, including the N2 gene.

This is the first time a Eurasian lineage highly pathogenic H5 virus has caused an outbreak of avian influenza in poultry in North America.

The appearance of this particular reassortant virus is significant due to its ability to cause high mortality in domestic poultry. The CFIA continues to take swift action in response to this virus.

While there are no reports of H5N2 related illness in humans, as a precautionary measure public health officials are monitoring workers who are exposed to affected poultry.

Wild bird testing conducted to date has not yet detected this strain in Canada. Further studies to evaluate the risk to wild birds are being undertaken.

Poultry farmers are encouraged to protect their flocks by employing strict biosecurity measures on farm, and immediately reporting suspicious symptoms to the CFIA.

British Columbia | Update on avian influenza situation

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is continuing its investigation into an outbreak of avian influenza in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. As part of this investigation, two additional farms have been identified as having avian influenza.

The province of British Columbia has confirmed the presence of avian influenza on these farms. This identification of additional farms is not unexpected as avian influenza is highly contagious between birds and can spread rapidly.

Both of these farms are close to one of the initial farms identified as part this outbreak.

The fact that these farms were identified quickly underscores industry’s commitment to supporting the response effort by immediately reporting any signs of illness.

In addition, another barn located on one of the previously-identified infected sites has been confirmed to have avian influenza. As this barn is legally considered a separate business entity, we are treating it as a new infected premises, bringing the total to eight.

The province of British Columbia has also notified the CFIA of another farm where avian influenza is suspected. If confirmed, this would be the ninth infected premises. Testing is underway, and results are expected within the next day.

As part of regular investigation activities, the Agency is fully tracing movements in and out of these sites. This may lead to further premises being identified and depopulated, which would not be unexpected.

Birds have been humanely euthanized on four farms, and depopulation activities have begun on the fifth farm. The remaining farms will be depopulated in the coming days.

The CFIA continues to urge poultry farmers to take an active role in protecting their flocks by employing strict biosecurity measures on their property, and to immediately report any suspicious symptoms to the CFIA.

Avian influenza viruses do not pose risks to food safety when poultry and poultry products are properly handled and cooked.

The CFIA has mobilized all available resources to manage this situation. The Agency continues to work closely with the Province of British Columbia, the owners of the infected birds, and the poultry industry to manage this outbreak.

For more information on avian influenza and measures poultry farmers can take to protect their flocks, please visit the CFIA web site at inspection.gc.ca.