Calgary Peacetime Disaster Plan

I'd emailed my alderman this summer to ask for a copy of the disaster response plan for Calgary, in light of recent events. I figured it would be a Good Idea™ to give the plan a once-over before a disaster struck, since by then we'd be too busy feasting on the goo in each other's skulls to read the instructions about how to evacuate a city of 1 million people.

I just got a response back, after it was forwarded to the Fire Department. The response had a boilerplate "this is confidential, intended for the recipient of this email only" but that's just silly. Here's the response I got.

Mr. Norman,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you on this matter and acknowledge your concern on such an important topic with all that we have witnessed in world events recently.

To answer your question, the Calgary Peacetime Disaster Plan is not a public document. It is held by heads of the various agencies that would be required to respond in an emergency, Civic Administration leaders and our elected officials. Unfortunately, the response plans and capabilities of most major organizations, including municipalities has been removed from the public domain following a worldwide change in security vigilance following the events of September 11, 2001.

Calgary's Plan is based on an all-hazards approach that outlines a coordinated response to those incidents most likely to have a major impact on our city. The incidents range from floods and other natural disasters to "man-made" events such as a hazardous materials spill. These events form the subject matter for regular exercises that are developed to practice the communication and team decision making capabilities of our agency heads, and to ensure that the plans and capabilities of the resources in those agencies is adequate to deal with the emergencies most likely to affect us.

As far as the specific evacuation plans that you refer to, Calgary Disaster Services would work with the Calgary Police Service, EMS, Calgary Fire, Calgary Transit, Calgary Roads, the RCMP and other stakeholders to expedite an evacuation in a time of emergency based on the details of that incident. For example, it would not be prudent to say that in a disaster residents of Tuscany should evacuate south via Nose Hill Drive and Stoney Trail to the Trans Canada Highway and out of town. That information may lead you into the hazard area for the incident.

The City of Calgary's Disaster Social Services and the Canadian Red Cross have procedures in place for establishing reception centres where citizens can register and have their food, clothing and shelter needs accommodated in an emergency. They would also provide assistance with locating relatives who may be separated from their families.

There are many things that you can do to enhance your own preparedness, including:

  • Develop a supply of necessities to provide for you and your family for the first 72 hours after the onset of an emergency. Access for responders may be limited after the initial impact of an incident, so the best thing you can do to aid your survival capabilities is to have water, food and medication stores for all those in your household.
  • Establish a plan within your network of family and friends to contact each other and ensure their safety in an emergency. This can also include sharing the duties to contact or check on any family members who may have special needs.

I hope this helps answer some of your concerns with regards to Calgary's state of preparedness. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Tony M. Messer
Calgary Disaster Services

If our ability to respond to an emergency, and to keep the city safe from "terrorists" is based on keeping the response plan a secret, we're pretty screwed. Security through obscurity isn't security.

I've created a (so far empty) wiki page in case anyone thinks it's a good idea to have a response plan available to the people affected.

Here's my response to Tony (copied to the Alderman):

Tony, thank you for your response. I am more than a little concerned about the need for secrecy regarding the disaster response plan. Security through obscurity is not security (or, worse, is a false sense of security). It would be better for the plan to be a public document so that the people of Calgary knew what was expected of them, and Calgary Disaster Services would have to prepare to truly secure any valuable plans/assets rather than hoping nobody knows about them.

I hope you'll reconsider the decision to keep the response plan a secret. I've created a wiki page at

in case any members of the public want to coordinate a plan on their own.

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Last updated: February 27, 2024