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?

Author: Alison Poste

https://alisonposte.com/about-alison/

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