Volume 96, Issue 11
Tuesday September 17, 2002

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Ontario volunteers court disaster
New government emergency assistance program

By Emmett Macfarlane
Gazette Staff

Nobody likes disaster, not even the Ontario government.

Last week, the provincial government announced its intention to introduce a network of community-based volunteers to assist professional emergency personnel in the event of a disaster.

The program would involve 20-member teams providing support in the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or other wide scale emergency.

According to Bruce O'Neill, senior communications co-ordinator at the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, the program is meant to provide support to front-line emergency workers in the event of a wide scale disaster. "These people are not going to replace front-line workers," he said.

"They're not meant to be standing shoulder to shoulder with police officers, firefighters [and] ambulance workers," O'Neill explained. "A lot of these people are people who would volunteer anyway."

London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said she had yet to see the plan, but noted London was prepared to deal with a disaster if one occurred. "We already have an emergency plan that is there for the entire community," she explained.

DeCicco said London has one of the most comprehensive emergency plans in Ontario. "I wouldn't want [the volunteer plan] to duplicate what we [already] have," she added.

London Police Department spokesperson Paul Martin said the plan will have to outline who volunteers would report to. "Their duties in this proposal would have to be fairly distinct," he said.

Volunteers will have to be trained in first-response medicine in case medical assistance is needed, Martin said, adding the police would never allow an ordinary citizen to be put in charge of crowd control.

In the event of an emergency, O'Neill suggested volunteers would be used to go door-to-door, retired police officers could be used to man road blocks, and professional emergency workers would focus on critical work during a disaster.

The government program will begin with eight pilot sites across the province, O'Neill said, adding the names of those cities have yet to be released.

"This is not a mandatory program," O'Neill added. If a municipality chooses to adopt the program, the provincial government will fund the first year and costs will be shared for the remaining time the program is in place, he explained.

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2002 THE GAZETTE