Emergency preparedness and response

This tool is intended to help you prepare an Emergency Response and Contingency Plan (ECRP).

Under section 10 of the Drinking Water Protection Act, water suppliers must have a written ERCP in place in the event of an emergency that might pose a health threat. No source water protection plan is complete without ERCPs and staff training. ERCPs should include wildfire, flooding and drought, spills, water system emergencies/failures, and dam failures (see the Government of B.C.’s Emergency Response and Contingency Planning for Small Water Systems step-by-step guide for more information).

For many emergency events, incident command is established through a Regional Emergency Operations Centre. Get to know the Emergency Operations Coordinator near you. Get to know where there are waste discharge permits and what is being discharged. Get to know your contacts on Crown land, such as FLNRORD, road permit holders, forest fire contact and Dam Safety contact. Update your contact list each year.

Annual training of staff and review of ERCPs are also important. Finally, it is important to set up a tracking and reporting system to make sure the incident is followed through to the end and lessons learned are reported.

Pro Tip: Reach out to emergency personnel to form a relationship before an emergency happens.

Where There’s Smoke

A composite water sample through ash accumulation on Okanagan Lake from 0 to 1 m depth had 100x the typical phosphorus concentration. Intense fires create hydrophobic soils that can shed (not infiltrate) water for years.

Developing and using an ERCP should include the actions listed in Table 14.

Table 14: Quick guide to emergency response and contingency plans

General Action

Develop early warning detection system and notification protocols

for Wildfire

Connect with BC Wildfire Service, Regional Emergency Planning, and local fire department to request notifications of fires within your supply area

for Flooding/Drought

Monitor water resources in your supply area and the River Forecast Centre for flood warnings

for Spills

Request notifications of spills within your supply area

Coordinate with and update contact information for staff, emergency responders, and vulnerable populations

Fire department; Health Authority; FortisBC; BC Hydro; long-term care facilities

Health authority; FortisBC; BC Hydro; long-term care facilities

Fire department; Health Authority; ENV; MOTI; local marinas

Review and increase monitoring frequency as needed

Based on wildfire duration, consider adding new temporary sampling sites where beneficial to inform impact on supply area

Increase monitoring sites and frequency as needed to cover affected water resources

Include new parameters to monitor; consider adding new temporary sampling sites where beneficial to inform impact on supply area

Develop an incident command system with operational guidelines for emergency responders and water supply staff

General Action

Establish criteria that define tiers or severity of emergencies, to inform response protocol

for Wildfire

Based on:
wildfire size and proximity to supply area; potential impacts on important infrastructure, known hazards (e.g., chlorine tanks), and water quality/ quantity

for Flooding/Drought

Based on:
potential impacts on important infrastructure, known hazards, and water quality/ quantity

for Spills

Based on:
spill type (e.g., chemical, oil, sewerage); spatial and temporal proximity to water supply area; potential impacts on infrastructure, known hazards, and water quality/ quantity

Identify sources of relief funding

Identify alternate water sources or means of bypassing poor water quality

  • Truck in water for residents or provide a water collection station
  • Connect to alternate reservoirs
  • Divert poor quality water

General Action


for Wildfire

Collaborate with FLNRORD, ENV, BC Wildfire Service, local fire department, and First Nations on strategies to reduce wildfire risks and mitigate post-wildfire threats in supply area

for Flooding/Drought

Work with FLNRORD, BCTS to maintain tree canopy in community watersheds and to restore ecological services

Implement water restrictions, reduction goals, and leak detection and repair programs

Educate users on water conservation measures

for Spills

Have a spill kit at marinas and fire departments

Identify nearby industrial or commercial properties and activities that could contaminate source water (Contaminated Sites Regulations Schedule 2), and work with owners to develop response plan

The B.C. Emergency Response and Contingency Planning For Small Water Systems is a step-by-step guide for creating an emergency response and contingency plan – designed to be used by operators of small water systems but also useful for larger supply systems. First Nations may also refer to the Emergency Response Plan for Drinking Water Systems in First Nations Communities guide for emergency examples and response templates. See the RDN’s Water System Emergency Plan for examples of emergency response action plans and templates on post-incident reports. Check your contacts and revise your contact list annually. Plan to revisit the ERCP every five years or more frequently if needed.

Pro Tip: Make sure BC Wildfire Service, FLNRORD, and your local fire department know where your chlorine gas and other flammables are stored in forest interface zones.

Table 15: Quick response sheet for emergencies


Call Report All Poaches and Polluters (RAPP) 24-hour hotline at:
1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network
Or 911 if this is an emergency

Go to https://bcwf.bc.ca/initiatives/conservation-app/ to take geo-referenced, time-stamped photos or videos and to report issues related to illegal use or abuse of natural resources. The app works both in and out of service using your phone’s GPS. Reports are sent to a secure server and forwarded automatically to the appropriate enforcement agency.


For observations of deterioration or unusual conditions, slumping, vandalism at a dam, unusual cracks in a steep slope, culvert blocked, etc., Do Not Proceed Alone. Call 911 and ask for Fire. 


When a spill occurs, or there is a risk of one occurring, report the spill immediately.

Call 1-800-663-3456  OR go to https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/air-land-water/spills-environmental-emergencies/report-a-spill  

Case Studies


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2014. Emergency Response Plan for Drinking Water Systems in First Nations Communities: Guide and Template. https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2014/aadnc-aandc/R3-203-2014-eng.pdf

City of Nanaimo, 2017. Water System Emergency Plan. https://www.nanaimo.ca/docs/default-document-library/water-system-emergency-plan-2017.pdf

Ministry of Health, 2017. Emergency Response and Contingency Planning for Small Water Systems: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating an Emergency Response and Contingency Plan for Your Small Water System. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/keeping-bc-healthy-safe/healthy-communities/ercp-sws-final-july-14-2016.pdf