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ARCHIVED - Implementation Guidelines for Part 8 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 – Environmental Emergency Plans

6.0 Content of an Environmental Emergency Plan

  1. Guidance
    1. Prevention
    2. Preparedness
    3. Response
    4. Recovery
  2. Rationale

For those persons having to prepare environmental emergency plans under either section 200 or section 199, Part 8 of CEPA 1999 requires that prevention, preparedness, response and recovery aspects be addressed. To familiarize those having to prepare the necessary documentation with Environment Canada's expectations, the general concepts associated with these four main elements are provided in the following section. It is recognized that not all of these elements may be covered in a single report. Nevertheless, required documents must be kept together and be accessible for an enforcement officer. Other detailed documentation may be held separately at various locations rather than being duplicated at all locations.



The likelihood of environmental emergency events can be reduced by identifying in advance the frequency, potential consequences and impacts of such events. The prevention of such emergencies includes several components, the most important being the knowledge gained from evaluating the risks associated with the substance(s) of concern. As most incidents leading to an emergency are caused by deviations from normal conditions within a facility, the evaluation of past emergency events occurring at the site and at other similar places in Canada and the range of potential scenarios, including worst probable case, is critical to understanding a facility's capabilities and resources in the event of a crisis. This does not imply planning for every imaginable worst case scenario, as this is not practical, however, the plan should address those worst probable cases and other scenarios that may be credible.

The key to reducing the frequency and severity of environmental emergency events is preventing them from happening in the first place. The most effective risk management actions combine prevention activities with appropriate preparedness and response. Case histories have shown that it is much more cost effective to implement an appropriate risk management program in advance than to repair any resulting damage done to the place or to the environment after the fact. With preventive action, problems can be anticipated, corrective action can be taken and risks can be managed to avoid environmental damage. For the purposes of these Guidelines, prevention refers not only to mitigation measures such as maintenance and spill containment, but also to the management systems for design and operation and to ensuring that the facility operates as intended.

For process industries in Canada, the application of management principles and systems to the identification, understanding and control of process hazards to prevent process-related injuries and accidents is referred to as process safety management. A number of such systems have been developed; those of the Center for Chemical Process Safety and the American Petroleum Institute are listed in Appendix 1. The programs are designed to address key elements of process safety management, such as:

  • risk assessment;
  • facility design and construction to specific standards;
  • preventive maintenance checks and programs;
  • maintaining effective operating procedures and facility documentation;
  • operator competence assurance;
  • process and procedures to ensure that changes in design or service or staff are effectively managed and to minimize impacts on operations;
  • incident investigation and analysis to minimize recurrence; and
  • assessment of compliance to standards.

Typically, issues such as process risk management, management of change and management of human factors, among others, are documented and complement traditional health and safety programs and applicable federal/provincial legislation. A complete framework of process safety management elements is recommended, even though some elements may be less applicable than others, depending on the nature and degree of potential hazards involved. Each element should be considered before assuming it is not applicable.


Under the obligations of the Environmental Emergency Regulations, a regulatee must accomplish the following:

  • identify potential risks;
  • document alternative scenarios and potential consequences;
  • develop environmental emergency plans to deal with the risks;
  • train personnel to apply the environmental emergency plans; and
  • regularly review and practise these strategies.

To enhance the level of preparedness, key people, including representatives of key stakeholder groups in and around a regulatee's facility that may be affected, should be involved with the development and implementation of the environmental emergency plan, particularly first responders.

A regulatee must identify whether adequate capabilities and resources exist to enable those involved to safely respond to the full range of potential emergencies. Preparedness planning should recognize that depending on the significance and possible escalating nature of particular events, a facility's capabilities and resources to effectively respond may prove to be inadequate. In such instances, required resources and equipment could be obtained through arrangements or mutual aid agreements with other industries and outside agencies. Identified gaps should be filled, equipment should be upgraded, staff should be expanded and there should be increased communication between neighbouring facilities, community officials, public safety agencies, etc. Preparedness measures should identify all activities essential to ensuring a high degree of readiness for a prompt and effective response to an environmental emergency. Periodic drills and exercises as well as effective training for key personnel in and around the regulatee's facility provide the means of testing the facility's resources and equipment and also raise awareness. Equipment needed during an emergency should be readily available and regularly maintained and tested. An inventory of equipment currently available on and off the site, along with the quantity, location, description, intended use and capabilities, must be retained and accessible to responders. An emergency plan must be regularly reviewed to ensure that changes within the facility are integrated into the plan. By implementing effective prevention measures (such as risk management programs that address all possible emergency situations), persons preparing and implementing an environmental emergency plan can determine the necessary level of preparedness for each situation.


Response to an environmental emergency includes many facets, such as maintaining communication systems between stakeholders, alerting and warning regulatees and, if needed, evacuating and accounting for personnel and the public. These needs can vary greatly in scope, depending on the nature and magnitude of the emergency. Quick and effective response relies on sound planning and pre-established partnerships. Effective emergency response calls for cooperation between industries, communities, local organizations and government through partnerships formed before emergencies occur. Such partnerships can be strengthened through the regular exercise of the environmental emergency plan with all of those involved. Communication from the facility to off-site agencies and between responders is important and necessary for a coordinated and successful response effort. Effective emergency response includes, but is not limited to, quick activation of the emergency plan, proper notification of the emergency to first responders and affected parties, rapid assessment of the probable path and impacts of an emergency, adequate resource mobilization and reporting activities. Response is intended to include all aspects of managing an emergency situation, until the emergency phase of the event is considered over.


Recovery refers to the restoration of any part of the environment damaged by or during the emergency. Recovery affects both the operating entity itself and the surrounding community. The issue of recovery is best managed through discussions between all involved parties to assess the damage and agree on a restoration plan. The level of environmental restoration is determined by many factors, such as size, persistence and toxicity of a release; therefore, recovery of an area to its natural state is not always possible. Thus, restoration plans are situation specific and would need to be defined in terms of acceptability to affected stakeholders.

Recovery from an environmental emergency involves activities and programs designed to return the place and its surrounding environment to a safe and acceptable condition. The general objective of the recovery portion of an environmental emergency plan should be to provide sufficient direction to reduce impacts to the environment and to minimize the recovery time from a particular incident.

The regulatee and public authorities should initiate recovery processes as soon as possible, striving for a rapid recovery from environmental damage and, if feasible, a quick return to normal facility operations. Those leading the recovery effort must be aware that rapid response without assessing the risks associated with the recovery effort can lead to increased damage and longer recovery times for the environment. The recovery/business resumption process either can begin during response or can be initiated in stages until normal operations are restored. Planning for the recovery phase during the prevention, preparedness and response process will improve recovery time and reduce impacts to the environment.

Factors such as the extent of damage, availability and commitment of personnel, resources and finances all determine how long the recovery process will take. It is important to establish a pre-planned capability to recover and undertake swift damage assessments, because the longer it takes to recover, the higher the ultimate cost.

Four suggested steps to damage assessment in a recovery situation are as follows:

  1. Determine the extent of the damage and appropriate communication to all relevant parties, including the public.
  2. Develop a system to bring in the proper resources, including people, at the right time.
  3. Work with outside resources to support recovery.
  4. Organize community resources necessary for people recovering from an emergency situation.


The complexity of environmental emergency plans may vary depending upon the circumstances. Although the primary goal of preparing and implementing an environmental emergency plan is to prevent emergencies from occurring, planning is critical for preparedness and response activities in the event that an emergency does occur. The Regulations set out the minimal elements but do not however, prescribe the form of the environmental emergency plan. Appendix 1 provides a list of references that may be utilized when preparing an environmental emergency plan, covering prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Regulatees may prepare a plan in the form that makes the most sense for their organization, so long as the plan is aimed at reducing potential risks and addresses the following elements:

  • the properties and characteristics of the substance;
  • the maximum expected quantity of the substance at the place at any time during a calendar year;
  • the commercial, manufacturing, processing or other activity in relation to which the plan is prepared;
  • the characteristics of the place where the substance is located and of the surrounding area that may increase the risk of harm to the environment or of danger to human life or health; and
  • the potential consequences from an environmental emergency on the environment and on human life or health. Consequences are identified through the use of worst-case and alternative scenarios. For more information, see the Risk Management Guide for Major Industrial Accidents (CRAIM), version 2002.

If an environmental emergency plan is required under the Environmental Emergency Regulations, the following elements are compulsory. Although they are not mandatory under section 199, they must be considered:

  • a description of the factors considered above;
  • the identification of any environmental emergency that can reasonably be expected to occur at the place and that would likely cause harm to the environment or constitute a danger to human life or health, and identification of the harm or danger;
  • a description of the measures to be used to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from any environmental emergency identified above;
  • a list of the individuals, identified by name or position, who are to carry into effect the plan in the event of an environmental emergency and a description of their roles and responsibilities;
  • the identification of the training required for each of those individuals;
  • a list of the emergency response equipment included as part of the environmental emergency plan and the equipment's location; and
  • the identification of measures to be taken to notify members of the public who may be adversely affected by an environmental emergency.

Environment Canada also strongly encourages the identification of a facility's five-year accident history, including all accidental releases that have resulted in deaths, injuries or significant property damage on site or known off-site deaths, injuries, evacuations, sheltering in place, property damage or environmental damage. In addition, senior-level commitment to the environmental emergency planning measures identified is considered critical, both at the corporate level and at the facility concerned.

Environment Canada strongly recommends that persons preparing an environmental emergency plan include community and interest groups as well as local and provincial emergency authorities in the development and preparation of the plan and also share the implemented plan with these persons. Communication of risk to surrounding communities is an essential component of both prevention and preparedness activities. Communication of information on what the public should do in the event of an emergency is critical, and the ability of the public to react is an essential component of preparedness. Communication of this nature can help dispel undue fears over risks that may not be present and can also assure the community that risks that are present are under proper control. It is important to note, however, that there may be security issues regarding the information being communicated, and some restrictions may apply.

Tests and exercises are a simulation of a possible emergency. Testing of the environmental emergency plan shows if the place can adequately deal with the scenario that is presented in the exercise. Initial testing should include informing those affected that a test is being planned. This will enable responders and participants to react in the proper manner through adequate pre-planning. Once the skills and knowledge have been demonstrated, the scenario can be tested with only the exercise design team knowledgeable in advance. Testing must reflect a credible type of event for the place in question. When designing an exercise, the planners should ensure that it reinforces any previous training, is simple enough that available resources are adequate but difficult enough to be challenging, provides maximum lessons learned, includes post-exercise evaluation and corrective action and is cost effective.

The type of exercise chosen depends on its purpose, the availability of resources and the limitations of conducting exercises that apply to the location of operations. Exercises can be either administrative or operational. Administrative exercises are usually held in a conference room environment and can be tabletop or synthetic. Synthetic exercises are pre-programmed exercises in which all participants use computers. Operational exercises include those where communications are tested and major or full-blown exercises. A major exercise is similar in content to a tabletop exercise except that it is intended to provide a realistic simulation of an emergency response and all the required resources are actually deployed.

High-profile facilities such as refineries, petrochemical plants, etc., and other places with real potential for serious and irreversible harm to human health or the environment should have to develop and execute a full-blown emergency response exercise. Depending on the nature of the hazard and situation, sites with lower hazards or single substances could use generic plans and exercises developed by their associations, adapted and implemented locally.

The exercise design process is composed of five main steps:

  1. devising a multi-year program; a full-blown exercise may not be necessary every year, but should be conducted at least once as part of the multi-year cycle;
  2. planning the annual exercise;
  3. holding the exercise;
  4. evaluating the outcomes; and
  5. reporting on the outcomes.

If more than one of the listed substances are identified in a regulatee’s plan, it is not necessary to carry out exercises for each of them. The Regulations provide maximum flexibility for deciding how this can be documented in the environmental emergency plan and carried out. One approach might be to address all the flammables and the other hazardous substances as two separate groups in the plan and document the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities required for each group. For example, testing could focus on the flammables during the first year, while the other hazardous substances could be covered the following year. The principal objective is to ensure that all aspects of the plan are fully evaluated over the multi-year testing cycle.

The insights gained from this process are invaluable to the regulatee should a real emergency ever occur. Further information on testing and exercising of environmental emergency plans can be found in some of the suggested references in Appendix 1.

Responding to an actual incident is not usually a valid or appropriate test of the emergency plan. An actual incident may be considered a test of the environmental emergency plan only if certain conditions are met. For an actual incident to be recognized as a test, it must include the appropriate agencies, proper debriefing and evaluation, corrective actions and documentation as in a typical exercise. Solely responding to an actual incident is not necessarily a valid or appropriate test of the emergency plan, as follow-up to determine what happened and its broader implications for the plan as a whole is required for learning and improvement. It would be detrimental to apply an untested plan, as it may not be adequate to handle the emergency at hand. Testing or exercising enables critical aspects of the plan to be examined in a structural way, simulating conditions to reveal major mistakes and omissions so that they can be subsequently corrected without disastrous consequences.

The Regulations require that a record of all results obtained during the annual review or testing of the environmental emergency plan must be kept on site for not less than five years. This record must be available for inspection with the plan itself.

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