Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Hazard Based Planning


Guideline for the Development of a Municipal Severe Weather Emergency Plan


Almost every community in Ontario has been adversely affected by severe weather, such as high winds, snowstorms, and prolonged periods of extreme temperature. These atmospheric hazards can pose a significant threat to public safety, health, the environment, property and the economy. The impact of severe weather may be localized, as in the case of a tornado, or widespread, as in the case of an ice storm or temperature extremes.

The purpose of this guideline is to assist municipalities in developing a Severe Weather Emergency Plan. The development and implementation of a severe weather plan is voluntary since it exceeds the requirements of the current legislated program. While municipalities currently have emergency response plans that are designed to address all hazards, recommended practices suggest that risk-based emergency management programs are more robust.

Aim and Scope

The aim of this plan is to allow for a more coordinated response to an emergency arising from a severe weather event. For the purposes of this guideline, severe weather includes, but is not limited to, high winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, snow storms, blizzards, and extreme temperatures.

The scope of this plan is to identify lead agencies and detail their responsibilities in the case of an emergency caused by severe weather events. The plan also details resource and emergency information requirements.

Authority and Maintenance

[Identify the authority this plan falls under (e.g. by-law)]

[Discuss the review and revision cycle of the plan, who is responsible for it, and how often the task will need to be carried out. It is recommended that this be done annually or after an event related to the hazard (i.e. after an exercise, after an actual emergency)]

Example: This plan is published as Annex____ to the ____________Emergency Response Plan as authorized by By-law _____; and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, RSO 1990. The custodian of this plan shall be the _____________, who is responsible for the annual review, revision, and testing of this plan.”

Description of Hazard and Risk

Characteristics of Hazard

A severe storm may impact critical infrastructure and the ability of people to look after themselves due to lack of electricity and/or heat, or structural damage to their dwelling. Storms do not respect municipal boundaries and may impact a large geographical area covering several jurisdictions. This will limit support available from neighbouring municipalities and will likely require the municipality to request outside assistance from an upper tier municipality or the Province.

The chart below shows several possible occurrences depending on the time of year.

Characteristics of Hazard

Summer Hazards

  • Severe Thunderstorms –an important consideration in most locations in Ontario, but south-western Ontario has the highest frequency of lightning and thunderstorms in Canada.
  • Hail - precipitation consisting of participles of ice, typically having a diameter of 5 mm of greater. The average hail fall lasts from 6-8 minutes and it typically occurs in heavy but localized showers associated with mature thunderstorms
  • Tornadoes - intense rotating columns of air that extend from the base of a severe thunderstorm to the ground. Canada’s area of highest tornado activity is in south-western Ontario though northern Ontario is another area of enhanced tornado activity. March to September is the prime tornado period in Ontario with the peak season in June and early July; tornadoes are rare in winter.
  • Hurricanes/Tropical Storms – are intense low pressure centres with maximum surface winds of 118 km/h or greater and tropical storms are tropical cyclones with maximum surface winds between 64 km/h and 118 km/h. Hurricanes do not occur frequently in Ontario, but are considered a risk given the potential for significant damage over a wide area caused by the accompanying high winds and excessive rainfall.
  • Extreme Heat – prolonged periods of very high temperatures that may cause health issues

Winter Hazards

  • Blizzards - combine strong winds with cold temperatures, and blowing or drifting snow, which reduces visibility to zero.
  • Snow storms - a period of rapid accumulation of snow, often accompanied by high winds, cold temperatures, and low visibility.
  • Ice Storms - an intense formation of ice on objects by the freezing, on impact, of rain or drizzle. Occurrences of freezing precipitation in Ontario vary from 10 days each winter in the north to 20 days in the south.
  • Extreme Cold – prolonged periods of very low temperatures, often combined with high winds.

Year-round Hazards

  • Fog - a thick cloud of water droplets or smoke, suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earth’s surface restricting or obscuring visibility. Across the north of Ontario, summer fogs prevail; in the south the foggiest time is fall and winter.
  • Windstorm - severe windstorms contain gusty winds of 90 kilometres per hour or greater.
  • Drought - a prolonged period of abnormally dry weather that depletes water resources for human and environmental needs

Information on atmospheric hazards in Ontario may be obtained from Environment Canada at

Characteristics of Risk

The chart below shows several possible characteristics of risk depending on the time of year.

Summer Hazards

  • Heat Stroke
  • Flooding
  • Building damage
  • Damaged transmission lines
  • Forest fires
  • Death and injuries

Winter Hazards

  • Access to Food/Water
  • Access to source of heat
  • Continuity of Government Services, if prolonged
  • Ice jams potentially leading to flooding
  • Motorists trapped in their cars
  • Collapsed buildings
  • Major traffic accidents
  • Interruption of critical infrastructure systems
  • People isolated in their residences
  • Fire during winter storms presents a great danger because water supplies may freeze and firefighters may not be able to access a scene
  • Alternate heating sources may not be safe or may not be used properly leading to injury or death
  • Death and heart attacks may increase due to physical overexertion and the exposure to cold weather

Year-round Hazards

  • Power Outages
  • Transportation problems
  • Utility and communications disruptions
  • Public Safety
  • Flying debris
  • Falling trees
  • Storm surges and wave
  • Disruption to movement and supply of critical goods and services

The chart below shows several possible impacts depending on the time of year.


At Risk/Impacts

Emergency Management Considerations

Summer Hazards

  • Long-term Care Facilities
  • Healthcare Facilities
  • Large gatherings, community events, festivals
  • Need for shelter or cooling centres
  • Municipal Tree Maintenance Program
  • Need for cooling equipment
  • Water supply, distribution, and rationing
  • Debris clean-up
  • Evacuation, particularly of people residing/working in known flood-prone areas or damaged housing and vulnerable populations

Winter Hazards

  • Long-term Care Facilities
  • Health Care Facilities
  • Schools
  • Closed roads
  • Lack of external support
  • Warming centres with cots and food supplies
  • Need for generators and fuel for essential services
  • Need for heating equipment
  • Emergency shelter for stranded travellers
  • Responding to building collapse emergencies
  • Search and rescue
  • Drop in/reception centres (e.g. hot meals and update on emergency situation)

Year-round Hazards

  • Damage to institutions
  • Reduced travel
  • Reduced spending in an area
  • Failure of automated systems
  • Disruption to movement and supply of critical goods and services
  • Listen for the warnings from Environment Canada - Weather Watch/Weather Warning
  • Timely emergency information and/or direction to the public through the media
  • Managing hazardous materials incidents/fires resulting from a transportation emergency
  • Disaster and emergency financial assistance
  • Short-term reception/evacuee centres and care of evacuees
  • Medium to long-term accommodation
  • Emergency medical services and health care
  • Maintenance and restoration of critical infrastructure
  • Care and protection of animals (livestock and companion)
  • Disposal of spoiled food supplies
  • Debris disposal
  • Road/bridge clearing and maintenance

The chart below shows several possible impacts depending on the time of year.


Implementation of Plan

[Who has the authority to implement the plan (e.g. municipal emergency control group, lead agency)?]

[Who maintains the notification list of external partners?]

[Who notifies those who have responsibilities under this plan and how?]

The author must state who has the authority to initiate the notification process and implement the Plan. The authority may lie with key individuals, such as any member of the Municipal Emergency Control Group or a department head. The person responsible for maintaining the notification list for internal personnel and external partners should be clearly indicated. A clear and succinct notification process must show who is responsible for making the notification contacts and list the primary and secondary notification methods.

Functional Roles and Responsibilities

Municipalities should work with partners to determine functional roles and responsibilities. Departments and agencies that may be involved in a response include (but is not limited to) fire, police, emergency medical services, public works, emergency social services, Amateur Radio Emergency Services, volunteer agencies (e.g. Canadian Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.), provincial ministries (e.g. Natural Resources and Environment), and utility companies. The table below provides a sample of responsibilities that may need to be assigned.

Summer Hazards

  • Health care at cooling centres
  • Health Checks
  • Set up and operation of cooling centres

Winter Hazards

  • Health Checks
  • Provision and operation of snow removal equipment
  • Alternate modes of transportation
  • Search and Rescue
  • Alternate heat sources
  • Health care at warming centres
  • Set up and operation of warming centres

Year-round Hazards

  • Environment Canada (Ontario Storm Prediction Centre1) is mandated to issue various types of severe weather watches and warnings.
  • A Severe Weather Watch means there is a potential for severe weather and a Severe Weather Warning means that severe weather will soon occur or is occurring.
  • Have appropriate Municipal resources, personnel, equipment
  • Creation of Mutual Assistance/Aid Agreements
  • Response plan/procedures in place
  • Evacuation plan/procedures in place
  • Establish EOC
  • Ensure adequate communications
  • Business Continuity
  • Mobilize necessary personnel and equipment
  • Request outside assistance
  • Coordination and administration of incoming aid
  • Establish a priority for essential requirements (e.g. power restoration)
  • Control the allocation of auxiliary power
  • Notify the PEOC that the EOC has been activated
  • Declare emergency and notify appropriate persons
  • Liaise with neighbouring Heads of Council
  • Spoiled food disposal assistance
  • Eliminate hazards from damaged utilities
  • Establish salvage operations of essential items, if necessary
  • Provide barricades to close off access to evacuated areas
  • Establish adequate communications
  • Secure emergency area and maintain the perimeter
  • Establish routes for emergency vehicles
  • Recommend partial or total evacuation of the community
  • Establish a news release system
  • Set up an inquiry service
  • Media monitoring and liaison
  • Set-up and operate evacuation/reception centres
  • Establish assistance to special needs populations
  • Liaise with host communities
  • Liaise with other community organizations
  • Emergency lodging of pets
  • Emergency lodging
  • Restore power and telecommunications
  • Assess the impact on the health of the public
  • Notify other agencies and senior levels of government of health matters relating to the emergency
  • Flood control (see flood emergency plan guideline)
  • Environmental Concerns

Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place

[What is the protocol for both Evacuation and Shelter-in-Place?

  • Consider: Is there a need to evacuate or to shelter-in-place specific for this hazard that is different from your existing evacuation and shelter plan?
  • Outline shelter-in-place, evacuation procedures, and evacuee hosting, if applicable (e.g. pre-planned evacuation routes, and procedures for determining an evacuation route specific to the emergency).
  • Identify Reception Centres, Evacuation Centres and Responsibilities
  • Plan for pets/livestock
  • Consider hazard impact on evacuation routes
  • Detail the extent of municipal assistance that would be considered in assisting evacuees (financial, logistics/advice)]

Arrangements with Neighbouring Communities

[Detail arrangements (mutual assistance agreements, MOUs, etc.) with neighbouring communities to provide assistance, such as the hosting of evacuees, the availability and use of alternate EOCs and/or Hazmat teams, and human resource sharing. Remember that your outside resources from neighbouring communities maybe already committed as they have been impacted by the same event and/or their response may be delayed.]

[Detail the extent of municipal assistance that would be considered in assisting evacuees (financial, logistics/advice).]

Emergency Information and Communications

Communications can be pre-scripted for potential severe weather emergencies or can be drawn from existing sources. These materials can be held as an annex to the Severe Weather Emergency Plan or may be held in the Emergency Information Plan and referenced here. The table below displays typical impacts from severe weather and some sources that may be referred to in communication materials. In addition, include any municipal products that have been pre-prepared for public education.

General information for vulnerable groups

General information for hazard impacts (after an emergency)

Severe Storms


  • Tornadoes in Canada


Extreme Heat

Extreme Cold

Power Outages

Emergency Information during a severe weather emergency will be conducted as during any other municipal emergency (refer to municipal Emergency Information Plan). As power outages are a common impact associated with severe weather emergencies, the municipality should include in their plans how they will overcome this challenge in addition to the points noted below:

  • Make reference to the Emergency Information section of this plan when considering public messaging/broadcasting (i.e. what to do in case of evacuation or shelter-in-place)
  • Outline procedures and considerations for emergency services drive-by through neighbourhoods and instructions that need to be communicated (i.e. over loud speaker or by going door-to-door)
  • Identify public alerting systems, such as sirens, tone-alert radios, and automated phone calling


Municipalities should work with the partners identified in the functional roles and responsibilities section to determine resource availabilities or requirements. The table below provides a sample of resources that may be required.

  • Hazards
  • Snow Removal Equipment
  • Auxiliary heaters
  • Transportation vehicles/snowmobiles

Year-round Hazards

  • Training
  • Risk Specific response plan
  • Communications equipment
  • Storage facilities for equipment, furnishings, livestock and pets
  • Firefighting and rescue equipment
  • Mobile public address system
  • Mobile generators
  • Ambulances
  • County Health Unit advisories
  • Medical equipment
  • Search and Rescue equipment
  • Auxiliary lighting
  • Barricades
  • Public works maintenance vehicles
  • Piping for emergency repairs to water and sewage facilities
  • Tank cars for drinking water
  • Tree removal equipment
  • Equipment to repair public utilities
  • Heavy equipment (bulldozers, etc)
  • Auxiliary power facilities
  • Emergency feeding facilities
  • Blankets and food
  • Transit

If your municipality has arrangements with resource suppliers, include a contact list.


[Outline financial procedures and obligations, such as:

  • Pre-existing contracts with 24/7 suppliers
  • Extra-ordinary expenditures
  • Expenditure authorities (e.g. who can sign a purchase order?)
  • Human resources considerations (e.g. tracking of overtime, volunteers, collective agreements)
  • Potential cost recovery (e.g. third party liability)
  • Location and procedure for accessing emergency petty cash
  • Donations Management
  • If applicable, contact Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (see ODRAP Guidelines at]

Support/Supplement Plans:

Refer to support and supplementary plans as required (e.g. EOC open/activation, EOC operations, public works agreements, fire services agreement.)


Prevention activities reduce the likelihood of an event. Severe weather prevention activities are listed below:

  • Planning, zoning, and ordinance regulations
  • Open space preservation
  • Floodplain and wetland development regulations
  • Storm water management
  • Minimum set back requirements
  • Evacuation plans


Mitigation activities reduce the impact of the event. Severe weather prediction, tornado warnings, and public awareness are important measures in reducing community vulnerability. Industry transportation safety measures help to mitigate the risk caused by severe weather events and can be supplemented with public awareness measures. Mitigation activities for severe weather are listed below:

By Type of Hazard

General Activities

  • Pursue regular community outreach and education, particularly towards owners of vulnerable properties such as campgrounds, vulnerable populations such as the elderly and tourists, and during the most vulnerable times of the year, mainly summer.
  • Promote and implement modern hazard warning systems, such as weather radios and tools like the internet and cell phones.
  • Develop reliable and multiple evacuation routes from key places of assembly, such as recreation areas and the fairgrounds, through roadway improvements, signage, and coordination with the County and local emergency and protective service providers and with owners/operators of these places of assembly.
  • Protect critical facilities and infrastructure

Severe Weather

  • Advance the construction of shelters and saferooms, in locations that are central to existing vulnerable populations. For example, include provisions for the inclusion of saferooms/shelters for new developments like campgrounds, mobile home parks, and housing for the elderly or disabled
  • Promote active tree management
  • Work with Environment Canada to recruit Storm Spotters and train them

Extreme Temperatures

• Promote and improve use of cooling/warming centres (possibly similar spaces as saferooms)

By Type of Activity

Natural Resource Protection

  • Wetlands protection
  • Pollution reduction
  • Erosion and sediment control
  • Fuels reduction
  • Watershed maintenance
  • Prohibit development in high-risk areas.
  • Vegetation control

Property Protection

  • Utility relocation
  • Burying or flood proofing
  • Backup protections
  • Insurance and other financial loss minimization actions
  • Technical evaluations and mapping

Public Information and Involvement

  • Education
  • Maps with high hazard locations identified
  • Informational mailings
  • Workshops
  • Real Estate disclosures for natural hazards
  • Real Estate insurance

Structural Protection/Projects

  • Detention/Retention basins
  • Larger culverts
  • Elevated seismic design
  • Floodwalls
  • Debris basins
  • Landslide stabilization and levees


  • What training initiatives are needed for severe weather (e.g. an exercise, courses, presentation by weather specialists)
  • What public education/communications initiatives are needed for severe weather (see links available in the Emergency Information section of this guideline)

Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP)

[Based on recommended practices, consider including Continuity of Operations (COOP) as part of the risk management process. Consider locations of municipal services, facilities and infrastructure as they may be affected by a hazard.]


The goal is for the municipality, citizens and businesses to recover from the event. This includes establishing priorities and procedures for:

  • Restoring the public infrastructure where possible or desirable (e.g. downed power lines, tree debris, clear roadways)
  • Addressing the emotional, social, economic and physical well-being of those involved
  • Donations management
  • Notifying the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing re: ODRAP
  • Mitigation actions to lessen the impact of future reoccurrences of similar events such as utilization of land use planning for floods.
  • Establishing a recovery information centre where the impacted individuals can obtain additional information on the recovery process.
  • A municipality may apply for a waiver for environmental legislation in order to facilitate debris removal or clean-up following an emergency

Post-Event Activities


[Consider post-event reporting procedures, such as:

  • Quick tactical de-briefing (hot-wash)
  • More detailed operational de-briefing
  • Questionnaire (to volunteers, contractors, media, owners of facilities used, etc.) in order to identify gaps and future considerations for improvement
  • Development of an After Action Report, a financial report, and a report to program committee/council]

[Discuss who generates the above, when they will be created, to whom they will be presented, and how the lessons learned will be incorporated into the hazard plan.

1 See the attached Memorandum regarding Environment Canada services