Emergency response in remote areas – be prepared

The safety and well-being of rural waterfront residents is of significant importance to FOCA and our member associations, and to all of us who spend time in the out of doors – often many miles from local services. Given the independent and self-sufficient nature of rural living, it is vital that we are prepared in the event of an emergency, and able to quickly and accurately relay the required information to emergency service providers.

FOCA recommends that each waterfront home have a handy and visible list of emergency phone numbers posted somewhere prominent, near a telephone if possible. This will aid in directing first responders to your location – critical information that may save a life, and that (in a panic) may be hard to translate or describe  – especially if a guest, or others less familiar with your location, are making the call. Create your own call list, or adapt this handy example from FOCA to put all the relevant information for your location in one place. Help our first responders to get to you when you need them most.


May 2022 – an extreme weather system known as a derecho cut across Ontario and Quebec leaving hundreds of thousands without power for an extended period. Read about the storm and its aftermath:

Earlier News:

May 21, 2021 – FOCA’s Terry Rees discusses emergency preparedness in rural and remote areas with CBC Ontario Morning (Starts at 41:41)

April 2021 webinar: FOCA and our partners at Action First Aid hosted a one hour “lunch and learn” webinar about Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) and how to create a cardiac safe cottage community.

The digital recording is available to all FOCA members.

FOCA’s colleagues at Action First Aid provide essential first aid training, whether the emergency occurs at home, or on the dock. Take 2 minutes and watch their video about what to do, so you’re ready to help an adult who is choking:  https://youtu.be/UZLqMqD2YF4


Video: CPR in 3D – Watch what happens inside the body when CPR is performed.

Scan the QR code in the image at right with your phone camera to watch the video, or visit: onlinetraining.actionfirstaid.ca for this and other online training programs about safety and emergency response.

January 2021 – A new app has FOCA buzzing:

What3Words works globally to help you tell emergency responders exactly where you are, by converting complex latitude/longitude combinations into three unique word sequences. (Proviso: you still need a bar of internet service in the moment, for the app to generate a new location code.) Download on your mobile device, or check out the functionality from your computer now: details are online here.

Residents of the District of Muskoka can now receive automated notifications of emergencies affecting their home or cottage though #AlertMuskoka, and the Voyent Alert! app.

Update January 2021Letter received from the Attorney General re: Ontario’s response to northern emergencies

Earlier news on this: November 2020 – FOCA remains concerned about the state of emergency response in rural and northern Ontario, and recently followed up with the Attorney General, Minister Doug Downey, as we continue to await word about any changes to emergency response stemming from the Coroner’s 2018 report (see November 2018 entry, below). FOCA is in close contact with Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, where the 2013 accident occurred; the MPP’s office reports that the Minister seems open to the idea of providing a response to the Coroner to speak to the Province’s steps to help keep rural and northern residents safer, following this tragic event. Stay tuned.

November 2018 – The coroner’s inquest into the 2013 fatal boating accident and 911 response at Lake Wanapitei (see more, including FOCA’s 2014 letter, below) has made 27 recommendations, including that the province should create an independent body to provide oversight to all 911 operations to investigate, respond to, and resolve complaints. Read about the recommendations, from CBC News.

October 15, 2018 – Inquest begins into Ontario’s 911 system (CBC)

September 7, 2018 – Coroner’s inquest date has finally been set for October 2018, related to 2014 fatal boating accident and 911 response. Read more here. (Sudbury.com)

December 2014 – An unfortunate and fatal boating incident on Lake Wanipitei (Wahnapitae) near Sudbury was a tragic example of the limitations of providing emergency services outside of southern / municipal Ontario.

On behalf of FOCA’s members, the following letter was written in December 2014 to the local MPP France Gelinas (Nickel Belt), and copied to Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, and to Ontario Fire Marshal & Chief, Emergency Management, Ted Wieclawek:

Dear MPP Gelinas, (and Messrs. Hoskins, and Wieclawek by cc),

Our organization represents thousands of rural and northern property owners, including many in your riding, and we are gravely concerned about their ability to reasonably access emergency services, should they need them. The fatally flawed dispatch of critical services to a June 2013 boating accident on Lake Wanapitei has heightened our concerns and prompted this request.

We would appreciate any information you can provide in relation to the follow up to this case, including information from the coroner’s office, from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, EMO/OFM or others.

On behalf of our members, we would like some assurance that the health and well-being of northern and rural Ontario residents is a priority of the Provincial government, and that effective communications and coordination, along with adequate resources, are in place to respond to emergency situations faced by our citizens.

We would like to be able to accurately disseminate information to our members about how (or if) they can access emergency services should they need them, and also to accurately describe what their expectations should be regarding access to government-led emergency response in the future.


Terry Rees, Executive Director
Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA)

On February 24, 2015, FOCA received a response from Ms. Gelinas (but as yet nothing from the Ministry of Health, nor Emergency Management Ontario) :

Mr. Rees,

Unfortunately the government has declined to hold an inquiry into the event on Lake Wanapitei and our researchers have found there are no generic expected response times for cottagers. Any response time will depend upon location and the specific circumstances of each individual cottage and the municipality in which they reside. If there is no cell or land line available their choices are limited, a satellite phone is probably their best bet. If there is cell service in the area of the cottage in question a GPS device that could give the user location coordinates could be recommended as they could share their coordinates when reporting the issue.

Sorry we don’t have anything more substantial for you and your members Mr. Rees.


Legislative Assistant / Adjoint législatif

La députée de Nickel Belt MPP

EMO Preparedness tipsAugust 2017 – tornadoes and other extreme weather in cottage country earlier this month prompt FOCA to remind you to make a plan for your family at home and at the cottage, prepare emergency kits, and sign up for alerts in your area. Get details on all these important steps, from Emergency Management Ontario.

July 2017 – Parry Sound Township reviews 911 dispatch process, after 2016 fire response. Read the article here. (ParrySound.com)

February 2017 – Coroner’s inquest called into fatal boating accident / 911 response.

  • Download FOCA’s related letter here (PDF, 1 page)

January 2016 – an update about emergency response in cottage country: According to the OPP (1-888-310-1122), anywhere in the Province of Ontario you can dial 911 for any EMERGENCY situation, whenever police, fire or ambulance assistance is required immediately. OPP is the default responder to 911 calls (in areas where OPP provides policing) and will attend the emergency, or will ensure the appropriate emergency agency (e.g. ambulance or fire) attends. Note that unless you are calling on a landline, a caller will need to be able to provide not only the nature of their emergency, but also their location. Calls made via cell phone or VOIP will not automatically provide OPP with your location. GPS coordinates are helpful, and if possible, practical directions to your location is important especially if your location is remote or hard to find.

A thought to share with your municipality about personal emergency preparedness

(credits: Allan Bonner Communications Management Inc.)

July 2015 – Allan Bonner recently shared his perspective on the state of municipal emergency response plans  (Excerpt from: CBC Mainstreet New Brunswick).

When I searched for the Cape Breton emergency plan I found a very comprehensive and long plan, that happens to be very old and, I think, a bit off the mark. What I did find – which is good – is a 72 hour plan and some personal preparedness information on Cape Breton’s website, and that’s great. To me that’s what should be front and center; no citizen cares about the legal authority by which municipalities manage the plan, who reports to whom, jargon, acronyms etc. They want to know what should I do in the event of an emergency….

September 2015 – Are cities prepared for emergencies? Do our cities have the answers?   More from Allan Bonner about Municipal Emergency Plans (from CHCH Face off)

Note: Allan Bonner is an renowned leadership coach and communications consultant with considerable experience in Risk, Disaster and Crisis Management. In addition to his experience with corporate and government leaders worldwide, he is also the author of 11 books on business. Learn more: http://allanbonner.com/about-allan_bonner/

Terry ReesEmergency response in remote areas – be prepared