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When disaster strikes, it’s good to know who we can count on

Nov. 26, 2018

NEMAC conference attendees

As you recall, the April 2018 Husky Refinery fire in Superior, Wisconsin was sudden, unexpected and dangerous. Had the fire not been extinguished so quickly, Wisconsin would have needed help long before an emergency declaration could have been made that would have got them help from other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). But if they had needed it, there was another way they could get help.

Enter the Northern Emergency Management Assistance Compact (NEMAC). NEMAC was established in 2012 as a way for neighbors to help neighbors beyond international borders. NEMAC’s current partners include six states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, North Dakota and South Dakota) and three Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba), and it’s endorsed by both the American and Canadian federal governments.

NEMAC is similar to EMAC in that it allows states to send resources to other states who, in an emergency, have expended all of their own resources (be they financial, human, or material). But a key difference between the two is that, unlike EMAC, NEMAC doesn’t require an emergency declaration before a state can send support to a participating partner — whether it’s a state or a Canadian province. That means NEMAC can be used in non-emergency events that still require a lot of resources, such as a marathon or other large event.

NEMAC can also be used in events that develop before an emergency declaration can be made. For example, imagine that during a particularly frigid cold snap, the water mains and pipes along the border between Minnesota and Ontario were freezing. To defrost them, Ontario might need more heaters than they have on hand. The bigger cities closest to the border are actually in Minnesota, not Canada, so they could provide the heaters more quickly than any Ontario city could. Ontario could request help through NEMAC to get the resources they need from Minnesota to defrost the water mains.

NEMAC is a good thing to know about, given that Minnesota borders both Manitoba and Ontario – two of the three Canadian NEMAC partners – as well as several of the partner states. It means that Minnesotan first responders and emergency managers alike can ask for help from outside our state, and give help to our NEMAC partners when they need it.

The NEMAC partners are constantly working to smooth out the process of requesting and giving cross-border aid, which is why they get together every year for a conference. This year’s NEMAC conference took place in Toronto earlier this month. Minnesota’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s (HSEM) Director Joe Kelly attended, as well as Deputy Director Kevin Reed and Operations Officer Cassie Calametti.

With the rest of the NEMAC partners, they discussed credentialing first responders (because doctors’ licenses, for example, need to be valid across borders), streamlining or even expediting border crossings in emergencies, and getting to know one another’s emergency operations centers (EOCs).

Knowing the NEMAC partners are working together and planning before an emergency can really give peace of mind. We can rest assured that, should we come to the end of our own resources when disaster strikes, we can count on our NEMAC partners to help us out – and they can count on us.