Considering the Need for a Chief Adaptation Officer

Five steps that should be instituted to increase flood preparedness across Canada, according to the Centre for Climate Adaptation

As a witness to the devastation suffered by communities as a result of catastrophic flooding, I have a deep understanding of how communities build resiliency. The 2013 floods which impacted Southern Alberta ultimately cost $5 billion in response, recovery and remediation costs and directly impacted the lives of countless Alberta residents.  

According to a recent report by the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, provinces and territories have not moved fast enough to protect homes and small businesses from the devastating impact of flooding. 

Dr. Blair Feltmate, the author of the report, graded the average flood preparedness score at C-, across all Canadian provinces and the Yukon Territory. The highest score, B- is reserved for the Province of Ontario, whereas the lowest score of D- is shared by the Provinces of British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. 

The comprehensive survey, completed in October 2016 addressed flood preparedness in 12 categories of assessment: 

  • Flood plain mapping
  • Land-use planning
  • Drainage maintenance
  • Sustainable flood management
  • Home adaptation audit
  • Commercial property adaptation audit
  • Transportation systems
  • Electricity supply
  • Drinking water systems
  • Wastewater systems
  • Public health and safety 
  • Emergency preparedness and response

The survey instrument was administered to 103 subject matter experts in ministries and departments responsible for flood prevention, protection, mitigation and emergency response. 

In order to address the challenges raised by the report, Feltmate identified five steps that should be instituted to increase flood preparedness:

A newly appointed position of Chief Adaptation Officer (CAO) would assist provinces and territories to identify best practises, areas of strength/weakness and opportunities to mitigate risk. 

The CAO’s responsibility would also provide centralized oversight of flood mitigation and preparedness initiatives, independent of whether this responsibility is a direct-line responsibility of the province or territory. 

Provinces and territories should produce audited flood preparedness reports that document and address the state of flood preparedness related to the 12 categories of assessment identified above.

One of the most significant recommendations, an overhaul of land-use planning should be instituted that restricts or increases resilience in flood prone areas. As a result of Alberta’s 2013 floods, numerous recommendations were made for a floodway development regulation. These recommendations were formalized in the Alberta Flood Recovery and Reconstruction Act, given royal assent in December 2013. 

Finally, the report recommends that, in the event of a flood and where cost-effective, infrastructure should be built back better, to standards consistent with “new and future-projected climate realities.” (Feltmate, 2016).

Does your organization have a CAO (or equivalent) position with oversight of flood preparedness, mitigation and prevention? What are your thoughts on the need (or value) of a CAO position?

How B.C. is Acing the Pandemic Test

The decisive action taken by the B.C. PHO on COVID-19, has focused on the twin pillars of containment and contact tracing.

A version of this post was featured on the Exploring Emergency Management & Homeland Security Blog by Timothy Riecker, CEDP.

The pandemic has upended how those in the emergency management field have seen traditional response frameworks. Lessons learned from the pandemic response will be useful to governments and the private sector alike in the coming years.

The ICS framework for emergency response is well equipped to address the unique needs of any disaster, including a global pandemic. The rapid scalability of the structure allows the response to move faster than the speed of government. It provides the framework for standardized emergency response in British Columbia (B.C.).

The B.C. provincial government response to the coronavirus pandemic, led by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) has received international acclaim. It is useful therefore to learn from the best practises instituted early on in the pandemic to inform future events. 

In February 2020, the Province of B.C. published a comprehensive update to the British Columbia Pandemic Provincial Coordination Plan outlining the provincial strategy for cross-ministry coordination, communications and business continuity measures in place to address the pandemic. Based on ICS, the B.C. emergency response framework facilitates effective coordination by ensuring the information shared is consistent and effective. The Province of B.C. has provided a daily briefing by Dr. Henry and Adrian Dix, the B.C. Minister of Health as a way to ensure B.C. residents receive up to date information from an authoritative source.

While we may consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be a unique event, a number of studies have provided guidance to emergency response practitioners of today. The decisive action taken by the B.C. PHO on COVID-19, has focused on the twin pillars of containment and contact tracing. Early studies regarding the effect of contract tracing on transmission rates have seen promising results, however the tracing remains a logistical burden. As studies indicate, these logistical challenges have the potential to overwhelm the healthcare system should travel restrictions be relaxed, leading to the possible ‘importation’ of new infections. 

B.C. has instituted robust contract tracing mechanisms to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in alignment with best practises in other jurisdictions. When instituted methodically, contact tracing, consistent communication, and Dr. Henry’s mantra to “Be calm. Be kind. Be safe.” remain critical tools to ensure limited spread, a well-informed and socially cohesive population.

How has your organization helped to slow the spread of COVID-19?  As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for how to improve the blog.