The United States and Canada have a long history of working together to ensure that, should there be a major incident, frameworks exist to enable joint response, across the international boundary. In 2016, total bilateral trade in goods and services exceeded $635 billion USD, a large portion of which occurs cross border via trucking and rail (Government of Canada, 2017). Continued diligence is needed to ensure these frameworks are standardized and continually evolving to reflect emerging risk, changing relationships and personnel, and the expectations of citizens on both sides of the border.

At a local level, border communities have always been on the front lines and most successful at developing sustained relationships, setting up protocols to work together in an expedient fashion, fulfilling community expectations, and keeping economic trade flowing. With regard to these relationship-based agreements, diligence is required to standardize and codify pertinent aspects into provincial and federal level written plans, ensuring that as we see turnover in leadership the good work completed at this level is sustainable.

Related: Interoperability & Redundancy within the EOC from “An Introduction to Emergency Operations Centers” – eLearning Course

State-to-Province and Federal organization-to-organization relationships are a little more complex to maintain and evolve. In the majority of large-scale and long-duration disaster events, both Canada and the United States have the capacity to respond to incidents that occur within their jurisdictions. However, there are situations where events exceed the resources available at the local, provincial, state and/or federal level and assistance is better provided by a response agency that exists in close proximity, yet cross border.


National legislation such as the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, and the Canadian Emergency Management Act, give authority for the U.S. and Canadian governments [i.e. the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Public Safety Canada (PSC)] to provide foreign mutual aid before and during a disaster. Generally speaking, these agreements provide authority for creation of plans and programs between Canada and the U.S. for emergency management.

In 1986, Canada and the U.S. formalized cooperation regarding emergency management by signing the Agreement Between Canada and the Government of the United States of America on Cooperation in Comprehensive Civil Emergency Planning and Management. This agreement was superseded in December 2008 by the Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on Emergency Management Co-operation.

The Federal Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on Emergency Management Cooperation is intended to be comprehensive. The agreement essentially states that each party shall do its best to facilitate the movement of evacuees, emergency personnel, equipment, and other resources into its territory or across its territory to facilitate emergency response.

Areas of particular interest within the this Agreement include:

  • It is stated that each party shall, to the best of its ability, ensure health and welfare services to citizens of the other country in a manner no less favorable than its own citizens. Aspects of transportation, communications and use of related facilities, security, and care of personnel and equipment are also considered.
  • The agreement states that it “shall not derogate from the application of Canadian law in the territory of Canada or Unites States law in the territory of the Unities States of America”, however, either party may seek appropriate alleviation of the normal application of the law as it may delay or make emergency management measures difficult to execute.
  • Parties shall attempt to avoid levy of any federal tax on services, equipment and supplies of the other country when they are engaged in emergency response activities in their territory and shall use its best efforts to encourage State, Provincial, and local authorities to do the same.
  • Cooperation under the agreement shall be consistent with obligations of the parties under the North Atlantic Treaty and other agreements for the joint defense of North America (Gov. of Canada and Gov. of U.S, 2008).

There are also a significant number of regional and service-specific agreements in place to assist in efficient and effective preparedness, protection, response, and recovery.

Examples of existing cross-border agreements and plans for mutual aid include:

  • International Emergency Management Assistance Compact
  • Northern Emergency Management Assistance Compact
  • Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Agreement
  • Canadian-United States Joint Radiological Emergency Response Plan
  • Canada/United States Reciprocal Forest Fire Fighting Arrangement
  • North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group Guidelines (Utilities)
  • S. National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan
  • Canadian Environmental Emergency Response Plan

Related:  Compendium of U.S. – Canada Emergency Management Assistance Mechanisms

The complexity of community based, State-Provincial and Federal relationships, as well as, the necessity to be able to deploy quickly when required, results in cross-border parties having to continually evaluate their effectiveness. Areas of ongoing challenge that need to be evaluated include legal impediments, border crossing procedures, and standardization of requested resources. Standardized interoperability procedures include the use of the Incident Command System (ICS). In relation to interoperability it is critical that, based upon risk assessment, government, responders, and industry are prepared to be situationally aware and share a common operating picture through integrated Emergency Operations Centers and Area Command Posts.

As communities change and challenges to cross-border relationships at all levels present themselves, it is critical that emergency and disaster preparedness, protection, response, and recovery planning are enhanced. Based upon the high economic dependency between Canada and the U.S., it is imperative that government and industry ensure effective mutual aid interoperability. The key element in a successful Bi-National approach is validation exercises between government, responders, and industry, which ensure interoperability capability gaps, and opportunities like the application of new technology, are explored. Further, these validation exercises are required to ensure integration of tactical Command Posts vertically to State, Provincial, Regulator and industry Emergency Operations Centers. Finally, regular and realistic validation exercises provide opportunities for the refinement of operational plans, assistance compacts, and serve as a medium to preserve the long-standing positive tactical and strategic relationships between Canada and the United States.


Government of Canada. 2017. Trade and Investment. Canada: A trading Nation. Retrieved May 17, 2017 from spx?l ang = eng.

Government of Canada and Government of the United States. 2008. Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on Emergency Management Cooperation (Treaty – E105173). Retrieved May 17, 2017 from

Mark Gillan

Mark Gillan

As a Senior Consultant for PreparedEx and Director of Emergency Solutions International, Mark has assisted partners from industry, the private sector and government in their “All Hazard” emergency planning, preparedness and risk assessment needs. Deputy Gillan concluded 26 years of service with the Saint John Fire Department in August of 2011. He graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a Degree in Business Administration (B.B.A.). As well, he has completed the Dalhousie University, Certificate in Incident Command, the Canadian Association of Fire Chief’s: “Chief Fire Officer” Designation (C.F.O.) and the British: Institute of Fire Engineer’s “Member’s Level” Designation (MIFireE) Award. As a Command Officer, Mark has served as Incident Commander, Safety Officer and Emergency Site Manager at a number of serious incidents. On several activations of the Saint John Emergency Management Organization, Mark has fulfilled the roles of Fire Services Representative and Manager of the EOC.