Come Hell or High Water!
Q1: Following the severe flooding in Southern Alberta in June, you have been appointed by the Alberta Government as the Chief Assistant Deputy Minister for the Alberta Flood Recovery Task Force. What preparations had been in place for mitigating such an event, and what improvements are you now working on?
First, I would like to explain that this has been the worst natural disaster in the history of the Province of Alberta. It has affected at least one hundred thousand people on some way, shape or form. The world changed for many Albertans when communities in Southern Alberta, as well as Fort MacMurray, were in many ways devastated by this disaster. Those affected needed help, and our Government took strong and immediate action to help Albertans and to rebuild communities.
My job is to lead a Whole of Government response to the Alberta 2013 floods. In many ways, the Province was prepared for this event through the organization of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency as well as the continued evolution of the Alberta Emergency Plan. The result was a quick response and seamless transition to the recovery phase throughout Alberta. Moreover, in this unprecedented event, the Province took additional steps to deal with a very unique situation. A sub-committee of Cabinet, called the Ministerial Task Force, was created through an Order in Council to deal with the flood recovery effort.
This Cabinet Committee was empowered to make decisions and was resourced with funds and staff to ensure those decisions translated into action on the ground. An immediate $1 Billion was provided for recovery efforts across the Province with more funds to come, as required.
As the recovery effort continues, we evolve as a Recovery Task Force. The Task Force has grown in size, calling on public servants from across the Government of Alberta to deal with recovery efforts. The core Task Force is now approximately one hundred strong and we reach into every key ministry that has a part to play in this common effort. We look to the future and ensure that, as part of the recovery effort, we build a stronger Alberta that will be more resilient to flooding in the future.
Q2: Can you describe the variety of government and other agencies involved and the effort required to get the Calgary Stampede going through this and its affect on citizens’ morale? What was the scope of challenges and how were they prioritized?
With respect to the Calgary Stampede we must give them full credit for making the decision to carry on “Come Hell or High Water” and for doing this on their own as an organization. While the Alberta Government was behind them all the way, the reality is they needed little in the way of help from us. The most significant support provided was to facilitate and expedite approvals for work to be carried out to prepare for the Calgary Stampede. Many volunteers and residents did an amazing job to do the work required to ensure this event took place. The positive impact the Calgary Stampede had on this Province as a whole was nothing less than extraordinary. It showed the world that Alberta is strong and would work hard to recover from this flood in record time.
Q3: Are there any major lessons on evacuation that you feel would be useful to share with other cities? Likewise, what about recovery; how do you set priorities and manage expectations after such an event?
The most important lesson learned so far has been the quick reaction and decision making processes set up by the Provincial Government. For the first time, the Province created a special sub-committee of Cabinet and then empowered that committee to make decisions. The creation of a 100-person Task Force also resulted in quick and seamless action on the ground.
In order to react quickly and provide money to victims, debit cards were distributed. The management of individual Disaster Recovery Program files continues to be a challenge and the Government continues to add more resources to a program that was never designed for such an unprecedented event in terms of its scope and size. Understanding how to work through this is an important lesson learned.
In terms of putting a Recovery Plan together, I would point to our plan which is available online at the Government of Alberta Flood Recovery website (www.alberta.ca/Flood-Recovery). The Recovery Plan is based on a solid set of principles focused on people and priorities. We have four key recovery elements that include People, Reconstruction, Environment, and the Economy.
Q4: What major infrastructure improvements and structural regulations might you consider after this to mitigate damages?
At this point in time, the Government of Alberta is working on a long term flood mitigation plan that will include seven key elements: overall watershed management; flood modelling and prediction; flood risk policies; infrastructure; erosion control; local Municipal mitigation; and individual mitigation for homes. These elements of long term mitigation form a system, or layers of resiliency that will reduce risk to people, property, communities, and the environment.
Long term mitigation is focused on reducing risk and ensuring the province is more resilient in the future with respect to flood mitigation.
The layers of resiliency include infrastructure options for upstream, within municipal districts, and ensuring the downstream effects are controlled in a positive way. They could include dams, diversion canals and a system of dykes and berms in areas that are required to reduce risk.
Clive Addy is the Executive Editor of FrontLine Magazines
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