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How Does the City of Burlington Make Decisions During the COVID-19 Emergency?

Burlington City Hall.

*Please see the media release below issued by the City of Burlington.

Burlington, Ont. — March 28, 2020 — Earlier this week, the City of Burlington announced that we would extend the closures of City Hall, administration facilities, recreation facilities and parks through the end of June. While decisions like this continue to be made on a daily basis in response to the ever-changing situation with COVID-19, the way the City makes these decisions looks different than it has in the past.

The City wants to ensure the people of Burlington have a full understanding of what is happening behind the scenes during this emergency, and that we provide transparency about how issues are raised, and decisions are made during this challenging time.

City Council continues to be responsible for overall governance of the City and strategic decisions. Emergency-related and time-sensitive decisions that are being made on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis and relate primarily to operational issues are being managed by the city’s Emergency Control Group (ECG).

“Like most other municipalities across the province, Burlington has activated its Emergency Control Group (ECG) to oversee the response to this unprecedented situation. I have been involved in many large-scale incidents over the years. Never have I experienced something that has evolved so quickly. What has been incredibly heartening to see is the commitment, expertise and nimbleness of the ECG, staff and Council to address this.” — Dave Lazenby, Burlington Fire Chief and Operations Section

From a Municipal governance perspective, City Council is ultimately responsible for the review and approval of the City’s overall emergency planning and management. Section 2.1 of the Provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) requires municipalities to develop and implement an emergency management program and adopt it through a by-law. On July 15th of 2019, City Council approved by-law 46-2019 that provides for our Emergency and Continuity Management Program (Post-Meeting-Minutes-Regular-Meeting-of-Council_Jul15_2019-Update to emergency and continuity management program by-law).

The City moved to a Level 3 – Full Emergency Activation, our highest level, on March 17th. This Emergency Level means we are in a high level of crisis and in a mission-critical stage. In order to support and protect our first responders, field and administrative staff and our community while continuing to provide critical and essential services, a Level 3 emergency enables a body of decision-makers known as the Emergency Control Group (ECG) under our Corporate Emergency Response Plan (Appendix B to the by-law). This group is vested with decision-making responsibility related to time-sensitive and immediate actions to address the emergency at hand, including operations and crisis communications.

The goal of the ECG is:

  1. Keep staff and public safe, minimize spread;
  2. Maintain essential services;
  3. Build and maintain strong awareness;
  4. Provide for the overall management and coordination of support activities and consequence management issues; and
  5. To ensure that response priorities are established, and that planning, and response activities are coordinated.

The Corporate Emergency Response Plan designates the following positions as members of the ECG (also known as the command staff and section chiefs):

  • Community Emergency Management Coordinator (CEMC)
  • City Manager, Chair of ECG
  • Head of Council (the Mayor)
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Fire Chief
  • Health and Safety Coordinator
  • Executive Director of Strategy, Risk and Accountability
  • Executive Director of Legal Services & Corporation Counsel
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Executive Director of Human Resources
  • Director of Capital Works
  • Director of Recreation Services
  • Director of Roads, Parks, and Forestry
  • Executive Lead of Customer Experience
  • Executive Director of Community Planning, Regulation & Mobility
  • Director of Corporate Communications & Government Relations
  • Executive Director of Environment, Infrastructure & Community Services

There are numerous support members of this team that assist with the day-to-day strategic planning involved, implementation of action items, and tracking of ongoing resource needs.

The ECG meets every afternoon, including weekends, via conference call. Meeting attendance is tracked, and minutes are kept and saved. A daily Incident Action Plan is compiled, approved by the group and sent through to the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management.

“The Fire Department takes a whole-of-community approach led by our emergency management division when it comes to protecting our residents against risk. We work hand-in-hand with all our fire divisions, community partners and regional leads to monitor ongoing community risks and integrate prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery plans to keep our residents safe. I believe we are a leading fire service in emergency management as a result of our combined experience, education and relationships with community partners – but most of all, thanks to an active council and an engaged community that keeps us informed and advocates for transparency.” — Amber Rushton, Community Emergency Management Coordinator

Each morning, including weekends, each department director first meets with their management team in order to identify the following based on ongoing situational awareness:

  1. Critical Daily Objectives to meet the Overarching Goals of the ECG (at a department level); and
  2. Strategies and Tactics (action items) needed to meet objectives set forth for that day (operational period). If needed, these can roll into the next operational cycle as well.

During the ECG meeting each afternoon, the CEMC opens with a Review of Operational Cycle Information, followed by a high-level overview of current issues and communications plans by the City Manager and the Mayor, and a roundtable discussion with input from all other members. Time-sensitive decisions are made by the group and actionable items are assigned to appropriate owners.

Examples of some of the emergency-related decisions that are being made by this group include the closure of parks and recreation facilities, adjustments to transit schedules and services, and enacting safety measures to keep employees and the public safe through limiting access to City Hall and other administrative buildings.

The ECG will continue to function as long as the City is at a Level 3 – Full Emergency Activation.

City Council continues to function throughout this emergency:

Council is functioning through the new format we began on March 24th to help us maintain the physical distancing our health experts have mandated for the public. We are conducting only essential and time sensitive business for the time being.

During council and committee meetings, we are taking extra precautions to protect staff, the public and council, while doing our best to ensure transparency and accountability to the public. No public are allowed in Chambers as we have closed all City facilities including City Hall, effective Monday, March 16 through to the end of June; however, staff are looking into ways of extending the technology to allow for remote public participation. Members of the public will still be able to submit written delegations to the clerk, and any councillor who has questions can follow up directly.

There will be minimal people in chambers at City Hall, such as the Mayor or Committee Chair, the clerk and our technician, ensuring we keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet apart and that all surfaces are cleaned before and after the meeting. It is important for a few people to be present in person to ensure remote public viewing of this meeting by live webcasting and recording the meeting. At this time, it is our best way to maintain a public facing component.

As these are unprecedented times, we are doing our best to navigate and would ask for your patience and understanding. This is how our meetings will be conducted for the foreseeable future, but we may need to make further changes as the situation evolves.

Council also continues to provide ongoing support to constituents in their wards via telephone and email every day. They are working hard to identify and solve urgent issues for individuals and businesses, direct people to the numerous resources being announced at a rapid pace by the Federal and Provincial governments, communicate important updates and distribute helpful information through digital newsletters, social media, and print material. They are provided with regular updates from the Mayor and City Manager on key communications and decisions being made by the ECG, and have the opportunity to ask the Mayor to filter issues up to the ECG in daily meetings.

There is a great deal of collaboration happening at all levels in the City of Burlington, as well as with representatives in regional, provincial and federal government, and through our partners at organizations such as Burlington Economic Development, the Chamber of Commerce, local Business Improvement Area groups, Joseph Brant Hospital, Burlington Hydro and beyond. Everyone is working together, day and night, 7 days a week to ensure we keep you informed, safe, and healthy.

As always, please stay informed with the latest local news and information on our dedicated city webpage:, and visit the regional, provincial, and federal sites for even more.


The City has an Emergency Management Plan that was approved by council last July and we are following it. Most of the decisions that council normally makes, we are still making, and we are anticipating getting back into the business of the city and a regular rhythm to council in May. A 3-month plan including staffing and budgeting will be brought to council in April for discussion. The majority of the decisions the ECG has made thus far are those of an operational nature that staff could typically make without council approval, with the exception of those that are time-sensitive and directly related to the emergency and the health and safety of our community.

I am grateful for the way everyone at the City has come together in the past few weeks, working tirelessly 7-days a week to react and respond to this unprecedented situation. We can now turn our minds to planning for the next 3 months.

PLEASE NOTE: To stay updated on what the City of Burlington is doing regarding COVID-19, please visit the dedicated pages (and subscribe) and, and our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page — that are updated as new information becomes available.


*Posted by John Bkila, Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist

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