Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Wilson International Center for Scholars

Emergency Management in North America

| February 2022

North America 2.0: Forging a Continental Future


In North America, disasters and emergencies have no national boundaries. When the United States closed its airspace on September 11, 2001, more than 200 U.S.-destined aircraft carrying tens of thousands of passengers were rerouted to Canadian airfields. In 2003, a massive blackout struck the eastern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario, affecting more than 50 million North Americans. Each year, the flooding of the Red River in North Dakota — floods which are expected to worsen due to climate change — overflows into Canada. Since 1959, firefighters from Naco, Arizona, regularly have crossed into Mexico to tackle fires breaking out south of the U.S. border.

As these examples demonstrate, and as the COVID-19 pandemic certainly proves, Mexico, the United States, and Canada share both common borders and a vulnerability to disasters and emergencies. During a catastrophic disaster, when the rapid flow of assistance is required to save lives and reduce suffering, these three countries must effectively plan for and coordinate a cross-border response. The evolving security trends requiring this capacity among the three countries are numerous. However, to date, a comprehensive emergency management compact for North America cannot be identified. Instead, there are various "parallel" bilateral agreements — between the U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico — without a holistic, trilateral overall approach. This chapter reviews the main challenges to effective emergency management that result from this gap and outlines a proposal for a comprehensive North American Emergency Management Compact.

About This Paper

Emergency Management in North America
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette. “Emergency Management in North America.” Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Wilson International Center for Scholars, February 2022.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem Headshot