Canada's military forces have a long history of coming to the aid of civil powers during national emergencies. In every instance, military forces cooperated closely with civil authorities to accomplish necessary tasks. This was also the case during Operation Assistance, when Canadian Forces (CF) gave support to the Manitoba government during the flood of 1997-Canada's "flood of the century."
The First Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry of Calgary, Alberta, deployed to an area of approximately 500 square kilometers south of Winnipeg, Manitoba, north of Grand Forks, North Dakota. The area included five regional municipalities (RMs) each with its own elected rural official (Reeve). Each RM, under the direction of its Reeve, was the lead agency in local operations. All CF units were to support and assist the RMs. The operation provided many lessons learned from aiding civil powers during a natural disaster.
Players and Boundaries
At the tactical level, the players during the flood crisis included varied groups of government and nongovernment, civilian, and commercial interests. In Manitoba this included the Reeve, his public administrator, the local fire department, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (provincial jurisdiction), the Ministry of Natural Resources, Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Telephone, Manitoba Highways, Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), and the mayors and councils of affected towns. That lines of operation crossed municipal, provincial, and federal jurisdictions quickly became evident. Each agency had its own area of responsibility and coverage, but areas often overlapped, thus increasing the strain on coordination. However, agencies that aligned along municipal boundaries or in congruence with the lead agency found their support efforts simplified and streamlined.
The tasks the military were to perform centered on general duties such as filling sandbags, building dikes, or performing rescue, traffic control, or escort duties. Because large urban and county areas would be uninhabited, providing armed security was, at first, viewed as a probable task. However, this did not prove to be necessary. Sufficient police resources were available and were deployed effectively to permit or deny access to controlled areas.
To achieve the tasks expected of them, the military organization of company, squadron, and battery, with their inherent mobility, communications, and general-purpose soldiers, proved to be best suited for the tasks that were to be conducted.
Military Force Organization
During the staff planning process, planners arrived at two options for the organization of military forces in support of civil authorities. Military forces could take a centralized approach in which the unit would control and allocate resources to civil authorities based on the task, or they could take a decentralized approach in which each RM would be assigned a slice of the pie. Situation analysis revealed that a decentralized approach would be best because it best fulfilled the need for simplicity, time, and space; unity of effort; and unity of command and control.
Rifle companies "in support." Rifle companies were allocated in support to RMs. Major towns, where dikes had been built before the flood, received as a military point of contact, a liaison officer (LO), who was generally a senior noncommissioned officer.
Twining a rifle company with an RM and placing an LO in each town proved to be effective. Civil authorities in each RM and the towns preferred to work with the same commander for all aspects of the operation. Local officials and military commanders developed relationships and dependencies that proved beneficial. Also, military commanders became versed in the nature of the crisis and the needs associated with their RMs and towns.
Each RM and town had its own way of fighting the flood and supporting its residents. …