donationsAbout ESS

What is ESS? 
Types of ESS Responses 
ESS Responsibility 
Major Disasters in Alberta 
ESS Acronyms 

What is ESS?

Emergency Social Services (ESS) provides for emotional and physical needs of individuals and families affected by an emergency or disaster for up to 72 hours (possibly more in extraordinary circumstances).

During this time, affected individuals and families can make arrangements for longer term support as required by accessing personal, insurance, non-governmental and/or governmental resources as appropriate.

Some examples of services provided during an ESS response include:

  • Emergency Food
  • Emergency Lodging
  • Emergency Clothing
  • Emotional Support
  • First Aid
  • Information

Some other services that may be offered include:

  • Family Reunification
  • Child Care Services
  • Multicultural Services
  • Transportation Services
  • Pet Services
  • Volunteer Services

Types of ESS Responses

Small responses*

  • First responders on-site such as firefighters or police contact the ESS Team to request assistance for individuals affected by a personal disaster, such as a house fire or flood
  • Minimum of two ESS responders meet with affected individuals at or near the incident site to make arrangements for any needed services
  • Does not require activation of a Reception Centre

Large responses*

  • Once the ESS Director has been notified that an ESS activation is required, the ESS Director will activate the ESS Team by means of the ESS call-out list.
  • The composition of the ESS Team that is activated will differ based on the needs of the event
  • Requires activation of Reception Centre(s) and/or Group Lodging facilities (otherwise known as Shelters) where affected individuals and families can register and obtain any needed services
  • In large disasters, multiple Reception Centres and/or Group Lodging facilities may be required.
  • Some people may be sent to unaffected communities nearby who will act as “host communities” and provide ESS via Reception Centres to affected individuals and families

* Please note that:

  • Every community will have their own specific procedures and naming conventions may differ. The above information gives a generic overview of ESS responses – for example, some communities may have another title as opposed to “ESS Director”
  • Every community will also have their own standards as to what constitutes a small versus large ESS response depending on local capacity and resources

ESS Responsibility

In Canada, Emergency Management (of which ESS is a part of) is dealt with “from the bottom up”, meaning that local authorities are responsible for handling emergency situations, but can request assistance from the provincial government if local resources and capacity is overwhelmed.

In turn, the provincial government can request assistance from the federal government as needed.

Below are links to provincial regulations and standards related to ESS:

Food Retail and Food Services Code (2003)

Public Health Act - Food Regulation: Alberta Regulation 31/2006

Public Health Act - Housing Regulation: Alberta Regulation 173/1999

Minimum Housing and Health Standards (1999)

Below are links to both federal and provincial Emergency Management legislation:


Alberta Emergency Management Act (2000)

Alberta Disaster Recovery Regulation 51/1994


Emergency Management Act (2007)

Recent Major Disasters in Alberta

Event Date


People Evacuated

June 19, 2013 to July 12, 2013

Southern Alberta Floods

Over 100,000

June 10, 2013 to June 16, 2013

Fort McMurray Flood


July 11, 2012 to July 20, 2012

Mackenzie County Wildfire


July 12, 2011 to July 14, 2011

Eckville/Paddle River/Fort Vermillion and Peace River area Floods


May 29, 2011 to May 31, 2011

Calgary-area Floods


May 1, 2011 to May 22, 2011

Northern Alberta Wildfires


For more information on other disasters in Canada, check out the Canadian Disaster Database 

ESS Acronyms


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada


Alberta Emergency Management Agency


Alberta Health Services


Chief Administrative Officer


Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear & Explosive


Calgary Emergency Management Agency


Canadian Red Cross Society 
CRIB  Central Registry and Inquiry Bureau 
DFA  Disaster Financial Assistance 
DND  Department of National Defence 
DRP  Disaster Recovery Program 
DSS Disaster Social Services (old name for ESS) 
EOC  Emergency Operations Centre 
ERCB  Energy Resources Conservation Board 
ERP Emergency Response Plan 
ESS  Emergency Social Services 
ESSD  Emergency Social Services Director 
FR  Family Reunification 
GL  Group Lodging 
HC  Health Canada 
HR  Human Resources 
IAP  Incident Action Plan 
ICS  Incident Command System 
INAC  Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (old name for AANDC) 
JIBC  Justice Institute of British Columbia 
MDS  Mennonite Disaster Services 
NEB  National Energy Board 
NESS  National Emergency Stockpile System 
NGO  Non-Government Organization 
POC Provincial Operations Centre 
PSC  Public Safety Canada 
RC  Reception Centre 
REOC  Regional Emergency Operations Centre 
R & I  Registration and Inquiry 
PHAC  Public Health Agency of Canada 
PIO  Public Information Officer 
SAR  Search and Rescue
SA  Salvation Army 
SITREP  Situation Report 
SJA  St John’s Ambulance 
SPCA  Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals