Role of the Province of BC

The Province undertakes many preparedness activities. The Environmental Emergency Management Program, overseen by the Ministry of Environment, guides provincial response efforts in the event of an environmental emergency.


To guide provincial response efforts in the event of an environmental emergency, the Ministry’s Environmental Emergency Program:

  • Develops Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans, (including Spill Response Plans), that define the scope and structure of the provincial government’s involvement when responding to emergencies. The response plans address issues such as waste handling, wildlife rescue, shoreline cleanup and assessment, etc.
  • Prepares technical documents to guide spill response efforts in specific situations.
  • Develops Incident Command System (ICS) operational guidelines to assist Environmental Emergency Response Officers (EEROs) and incident management team members in the field.
  • Trains and supports EEROs, incident management team members and technical specialists to ensure response practices are technically sound.
  • Conducts or participates in exercises to test response plans and the ability to work with other response agencies during an emergency situation.
  • Participates in inter-governmental and cross-jurisdictional response planning and liaison.
  • Develops policies, procedures and legislation to guide emergency response.


1. Monitoring and augmenting an industry-led response

During an industry-led response, the main focus of the Ministry is on ensuring the Responsible Party (RP) is successful in responding to the spill. The two primary and most common roles of government during a spill involving a RP (spiller/polluter) are monitoring and augmenting. A third role is actually taking over the incident and assuming overall management control and responsibilities. These roles are defined as:

  • Monitoring
    Ensuring response is adequate and meets provincial expectations. The monitoring role also includes establishing public safety and environmental protection priorities, and/or:
  • Augmenting
    Providing provincial resources (equipment and expertise) to the Responsible Party and/or federal or local government, if requested, and/or:
  • Taking over
    Assuming full response management role in the event there is no Responsible Party (spiller/polluter) or if the response is inadequate.

On arriving at the incident site, the first determination is whether the provincial response will be one of monitoring and/or augmenting, or taking over the response. This determination will greatly affect the level of provincial personnel involved (from a few responders just monitor, to potentially a hundred to take over a major event). The degree of local government and federal government support will also affect levels of provincial government involvement.

If the Province incurs costs while augmenting or taking over the response, the RP is expected to pay for the costs incurred by the province when assistance is provided (polluter-pay-principle). The Ministry has spill cost-recovery legislation to help achieve this objective. In addition, the RP must provide the incident structure to manage provincial resources and/or accommodate government integration.

2. Taking an active role

Provincial response ensues when there is a threat to provincial resources, the local/industry response capability is exceeded, there is a strong public expectation, and/or when requested by another jurisdiction. Provincial response most often occurs when an incident takes place in BC that poses a threat to the province’s people, infrastructure and/or environment. Each provincial emergency response is conducted in accordance with a provincial-level response plan, such as for water-related hazards, marine oil spills, inland oil spills and hazardous material incidents.

In the field, assessment, advice and direction is provided by the Environmental Emergency Response Officers (EEROs). The high level of technical training in hazardous material operations provided to the EEROs helps the government to undertake the most technically sound and proven response practices. EEROs and other regional personnel are at the receiving end of over 4,000 emergency notifications reported annually by industry and the public using the Province's 24 hour emergency reporting number 1-800-663-3456. The majority of these incidents are spills of dangerous goods, followed by water-related and other incidents.

The determination of whether an EERO undertakes a field response is guided by the Ministry's Environmental Emergency Program's policies and procedures. Generally, only about a third of spill notifications result in a field response. Spills that are of low risk (e.g. inside a facility yard), known to be adequately managed by local government (e.g. fire department) and/or by a competent company are not attended. An EERO’s training, experience and local knowledge are a large part of making the decision to respond. EEROs take a "risk-based" approach to spill response as they can not attend all reported spills.

For large, complex incidents, such as the Cheakamus and Queen of the North incidents, an Incident Management Team may be employed. The team members, who are mostly Ministry staff, receive specialized training in spill response, participate in training exercises and provide incident response as needed. Technical Specialists and Support personnel are also available to the IMTs if required. These teams are organized and deployed at the site level according to the BC Emergency Response Management System (BCERMS). BCERMS is based on the international Incident Command System (ICS).

3. Provincial participation in a multi-agency response

When high risk environmental emergencies occur, the Ministry must work with other response agencies. Cooperation with other jurisdictions, such as federal agencies, local governments and industry, is achieved through the establishment of unified command and response team integration.

4. Situation reporting

The Ministry provides situation reports during the course of an incident and/or after an incident has occurred. The Ministry strives for public transparency of situation reports, therefore for large events the progress of the incident may be posted on the internet. Interpretation of the response is provided by media releases.

5. Post-incident review

The Ministry holds and/or participates in post-incident reviews after each incident and response. Evaluation allows the Ministry to benefit from the learning experience the incident provided and to take follow-up action as necessary.