Ontario’s emergency response protocols under review following Elliot Lake disaster – by Adam Radwanski and Anna Mehler Paperny (Globe and Mail – June 28, 2012)

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With two bodies pulled from the wreckage of Elliot Lake’s Algo Mall, Dalton McGuinty’s government is set to begin a grim review of whether Ontario’s own emergency-response processes undermined the ultimately fruitless rescue mission.

A source in the Premier’s Office confirmed on Wednesday that the review will consider whether the specialized excavator used to dismantle the collapsed mall – four days after the crisis began – should have been brought in sooner.

After confusion about who was calling the shots on the ground, the review will examine whether the current emergency-response system delegates authority properly.

It will also consider whether structural concerns about the mall, brought to the Labour Ministry’s attention more than once, should have been identified and fixed before its collapse. But the overriding question hanging over the government concerns the strange sequence of events on Monday.

When the initial rescue strategy was deemed unsafe, and efforts stopped altogether for several hours, why did it require an evening phone call from Mr. McGuinty asking for a Plan B before emergency-response leaders came up with one?

Provincial officials have implied that by the time work stopped Monday, two days after the roof of the mall collapsed, the Toronto-based Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Unit (HUSAR) may have been too exhausted and frustrated to fully consider a range of options. But while that team had two civil engineers and multiple rescue technicians with it, allowing it to conduct assessments of the site, a source familiar with the emergency-response process noted that HUSAR is “an operational dig-em-out unit.”

That should have left someone else – possibly from Emergency Management Ontario, or Community Safety Commissioner Dan Hefkey – in charge of “big-picture” strategy, the source said. But before Mr. McGuinty intervened, there appears to have been a void in leadership for several hours, and possibly longer if it emerges that a mistake was made in failing to bring in the crane sooner.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ontarios-emergency-response-protocols-under-review-following-elliot-lake-disaster/article4375877/