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Revolutionizing Emergency Response and Preparedness: ERAC's GIS Transformation

Explore how Emergency Response Assistance Canada (ERAC), supported by Esri Canada's ArcGIS Online, is transforming the landscape of dangerous goods incident management, ensuring rapid, effective, and efficient responses across the nation.


Emergency Response Assistance Canada (ERAC) is a pivotal organization in Canada's emergency management sector, specializing in responses to hazardous materials incidents involving flammable liquids, gases, and other dangerous goods. ERAC is renowned for its robust support services, including specialized training, preparedness planning, and emergency response. These services are powered by a network of expertly trained responders and sophisticated logistics, and supported through cutting-edge technologies like ArcGIS Online.

Who is ERAC?

ERAC's mission is to deliver safe, timely, and effective dangerous goods emergency response services and training on behalf of its plan members and first responders. It provides critical response services during some of the most challenging emergency situations, setting it apart as an indispensable resource in the field of dangerous goods emergency management.

Photo from a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) firefighter training event 

Photo from a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) firefighter training event 

Challenges in Incident Reporting and Response Team Training

Prior to the integration of GIS technology, ERAC relied primarily on traditional means of communication when responding to a dangerous goods incident. Spencer Buckland, President of ERAC, describes the old scenario: "We were taking a phone call, getting a location, then communicating that to our responder community through a paper-based system." This process was slow, cumbersome, and inefficient.

ERAC's operational challenges were twofold:

1. Incident Reporting: Manual processes led to less detailed incident response reports. Also, a non-centralized resource list contributed to less efficient mobilization of emergency response resources as well as limited situational awareness, data collection, and inefficiencies during emergencies.

Before adopting ArcGIS Online, ERAC's incident reporting relied heavily on manual processes. Specifically, during hazardous incident events, the team was reliant on phone calls to collect incident details, all of which were manually entered into paper-based systems. The lack of real-time data sharing resulted in response teams on the ground lacking timely updates about the evolving situation.  Having a centralized repository of response resources is key for more accurate, efficient, and effective mobilization of resources to hazardous materials incidents.

2. Response Team Training and Assessments: Training and assessment documentation – registrations, attendance records, equipment inspections, team assessments, team results, and completion certificates – were originally completed through time-consuming, paper-based systems, and inefficient.

ERAC’s response team training and assessments include a combination of theoretical (classroom) and technical (hands-on) training components designed to prepare responders for the complexities of real-world emergency scenarios. Data collected for each team’s assessment results, mandatory equipment inspections, and other supporting documents were captured on paper and later manually entered into an electronic document, doubling the workload for the assessor. Post-event tasks also required support from head office leading to a multi-departmental workflow.

Introduction of ArcGIS Online and Esri Canada

In response to these challenges, ERAC partnered with Esri Canada to implement ArcGIS Online for a comprehensive, cloud-based mapping and analysis solution. This partnership equipped ERAC with sophisticated tools designed for real-time collaboration and response, featuring capabilities such as live data feeds, dynamic mapping, data visualization, and spatial analytics. These features are essential for organizations needing immediate access to accurate and comprehensive data during emergencies.

Esri Canada's robust, scalable GIS solutions have transformed ERAC's approach to emergency management. By integrating ArcGIS Online, Hubs, Dashboards, Experience Builder, and Survey123, ERAC can now quickly access updated incident information, visualize emergencies geographically, and strategically deploy resources. This has enhanced coordination and efficiency across all levels of the organization, setting a new standard in the industry for leveraging cutting-edge technology to improve public safety and operational effectiveness.

Transformative Impact of GIS on ERAC’s Operations

The implementation of ArcGIS Online marked a significant shift in ERAC's operational strategy. "We had conversations at a board level that indicated we wanted to build what we called at that time a, ‘logistics call center’ and that was the impetus to start looking at technology," Spencer Buckland noted, highlighting the strategic decision that led to the adoption of GIS technology.

The integration of GIS technology brought about an operational transformation within ERAC. The shift from a paper-based to a digital web-based system was challenging and ultimately empowering. Patrick Knight, Safety & Emergency Management Director at ERAC, shared his experience during the transition: "Understanding the technology was initially a challenge... but we overcame it during the implementation phase of our change management process, transitioning from paper-based to electronic systems."

Quantitative and Qualitative Improvements

The integration of ArcGIS Online has significantly improved ERAC's incident reporting capabilities:

  • Incidents Documented: Since January 2019, the GIS-powered system has recorded 809 incidents (as of April 2024).
  • Documentation Accuracy: In the same time frame, the system manages a growing collection of 2,776 documents and photos and 15,226 time-stamped incident notes, all linked to specific incidents. This meticulous record-keeping enhances real-time operational responses and serves as a vital resource for ongoing training and continuous improvement of protocols.

The GIS-enhanced training program, initiated in March 2023, has greatly improved ERAC's training capabilities:

  • Training Events and Assessments: Conducted 35 team assessments and emergency equipment inspections and executed 8 comprehensive firefighter training events.
  • Responder Certification: Certified 289 responders, ensuring well-prepared response teams across the nation.
  • Registration Efficiency: Streamlined the registration process with the innovative use of QR codes, resulting in 526 registrations logged. This process moves away from paper-based attendance sheets, significantly reducing administrative tasks and allowing a greater focus on critical training activities.
  • Automated Workflows: By automating various processes, all facets of a training event (including post-event administrative tasks) can now be completed by a single team member performing the assessment.

ERAC’s incident dashboard allows viewing real-time updates of incident information as it is collected

ERAC’s incident dashboard allows viewing real-time updates of incident information as it is collected

Real-World Examples and Community Engagement 

ERAC's training programs effectively prepare teams for real emergencies by simulating complex, pressure-filled scenarios. Patrick Knight emphasizes, "Our training is tailored to mirror the real world, ensuring teams are well-prepared to perform under pressure. Implementing GIS applications within exercise scenarios allows participants to receive detailed feedback regarding their performance and response strategies." This practical preparation builds strong community ties and enhances public trust during actual emergencies.