Natural Disasters & Lesser Things

Jul 15, 2007

We are fortunate to have a piece by the new Commissioner of Public Safety in Ontario, Com­mis­sioner Jay Hope on his  role and that of Emergency Manage­ment Ontario and the ordinary citizen.

This is followed by a worthwhile report from the province of Ontario on that erstwhile 9/11 federal initiative of providing proper Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) ­capability across Canada. Carol-Lynn Chambers and Doug Silver provide comprehensive insight into the challenges of building and maintaining teams of experts in saving lives amid the tons of glass and concrete debris, electrical, gas and other hazards in our modern cities. We see every night on TV the challenge this poses particularly in the continued Middle East factional fighting.

Mark Egener takes us west, where an excellent Commission report on the 2005 Wabamun oil spill has led to some innovative recommendations. The cost of this disaster is $100 million and counting. In this realm of costs, we are privileged to have Professor Gordon McBean, from the Institute for Catas­trophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario, who clearly shows us that climate related hazards are on the rise. This influential Institute does research in support of the Insurance Industry and has provided some rather interesting facts. The financial impact of ­natural disasters can be significant, ­consider the following:

“The 1998 ice storm was a severe winter storm and the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history. While freezing rain is common in Canada, the ice storm that hit eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick was exceptional. Over six-day period, 100mm (4") of freezing rain fell intermittently. As a result more than 4 million Canadians were displaced and nearly three million households were without electricity. This event caused in excess of C$5.5 billion in property damage and significant environmental consequences.

Urban fires cause thousands of fatalities and billions of dollars of property damage each year. Wildfires destroy forests, but result in few fatalities.

Canada ranks second in the world in terms of the frequency of tornadoes, with an average of 80 tornadoes each year. In the United States, a thousand tornadoes are reported each year.

The rainstorm that caused the 1996 Saguenay flood, for example, dropped an average of 126mm of rain over a 100,000km2 area in 48 hours. Manitoba invested in the construction of the Red River Floodway, and without it, the 1997 flood would have left 80% of the city underwater, and forced the evacuation of more than 500,000 residents. Federal payments for flooding have exceeded any other type of Canadian weather disaster.

In Canada droughts are the most costly hazard, though they rank fourth in frequency. They affect agriculture where losses to crops and livestock have reached billions of dollars. They have also caused extensive environmental problems through increased degradation and erosion of soil, destruction of the ecological habitats and deterioration of lakes. It is important to note that, as the climate warms, more frequent drought is a likely consequence.

There are about 1,500 earthquakes recorded in Canada each year. A few dozen are strong enough to cause damage. Several Canadian cities are vulnerable to earthquakes, including Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City.

Earthquakes can cause terrible losses. For example, a 1995 earthquake in Japan caused more than C$150 billion in damage. In 1960, Chile experienced the strongest earthquake ever recorded (9.5). Some of the world’s strongest earthquakes have occurred in western Canada including a magnitude 9 subduction earthquake west of Vancouver Island in 1700, and the 8.1 event in the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1949.

Indeed, in 1929, an earthquake off Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula generated a 7m (23 ft) tsunami that drowned 28 people – the largest recorded loss of life in Canada due to an earthquake. Significant earthquakes have also occurred in the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys – and in the Arctic.

Of course there are other threats, man-made ones, but it is assumed that an “all hazards approach” to Emergency Preparedness will allow us to resolve or mitigate even these.

We saw Katrina and the tsunami off Indonesia and wonder what could be worse – well here is some food for thought:

A new study by researchers at the Center for Mass Destruction Defense (CMADD) at the University of Georgia details the catastrophic impact a nuclear attack would have on American cities.

The grim data in the report by Professors Cham Dallas and William Bell, appears in the current issue of the Interna­tional Journal of Health Geographics, and explains that a 20-kiloton weapon could be manufactured by terrorists and fledgling nuclear countries such as North Korea. The report also concluded that:

A 20-kiloton detonation would leave debris tens of feet thick in downtown areas with buildings 10-stories or higher. Roughly half of the population in downtown areas would be killed, mainly from collapsing buildings. Most of those surviving the initial blast would be exposed to a fatal dose of radiation.

While the main effects from such an explosion would be from the blast and the radiation it releases, a 550-kiloton explosion (a device commonly found in the arsenal of the former Soviet Union and therefore deemed by the authors to be the most likely to be stolen by terrorists) would create additional and substantial casualties from burns. This level of explosion would superheat the blast zone, causing buildings to spontaneously combust. Mass fires would consume cities, reach­ing out nearly 6.3 km (4 miles) in all directions from the detonation site.

A 550 kiloton detonation in New York would result in a fallout plume extending the length of Long Island, resulting in more than 5 million deaths.

A similar detonation in Washington, D.C. would destroy hospitals in the District, but its fallout plume would also incapacitate hospitals in Baltimore, nearly 64 km (40 miles) away.

From farther “Out West,” Rear Admiral Girouard, the Commander of Joint Task Force Pacific of the Canadian Forces was interviewed about his experience in ­support of the BC government’s work to mitigate the recent floods.

Then we are off to Croatia to talk with Damir Trut, director of IDASSA 2007 – a recent NATO and EU Emergency Preparedness Exercise.

Following this, Tanya Elliot from our Red Cross, representing the important role of Non-Government Organizations in Emergencies, gives us their perspective on harnessing volunteerism and applying lessons learned. Over the past year, the Canadian Red Cross responded 1,776 times to disasters in Canada – ranging from house fires to flooding and forest fires – providing comfort and meeting the immediate needs of 52,000 affected people.  

Still analyzing Hurricane Katrina, Edward Minyard brings you some interesting work being done by Unisys on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) use in Emergency Management.

Following up on past issues, Richard Cohen reports on an interesting Confer­ence Board of Canada conference on Border Issues that were the focus of our Spring edition. Some reinforcing conclusions are highlighted in this article.

As a final rant, and following up on our first editorial on the “War on Terror,” I must comment on the very silly, childish and self-serving gesticulating in academia and the House of Commons recently about “Exit Strategies for Afghanistan,” (including the somewhat incredible “withdrawal with honour” line). I feel it is about time that the government develop a Success Strategy within NATO, that is based on the “real world” of meeting our commitments as a mature middle power and ally of like-minded democracies that adhere to the UN charter.

We were right to go to Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and their support of Al Qaeda; we are right to be involved in Kandahar and the support to the legitimately elected Afghan government of Mr. Karzai by providing our fair share of security, training, aid and other financial support to this fledgling and legitimate regime. What we need is a NATO Success Strategy, that we can clearly support – voiced by our government to our citizens – and one that will allow the Afghan ­government to govern. This strategy must include continued and strong support for our “defined achievements” according to the reasons we went there in the first place.

On the parallel matter of supporting our troops, I draw your attention to our fine final piece by Bob Bergen of CDFAI and suggest that discussions in Parliament and academia focus on this  Success Strategy rather than just changing the channel – because the true REALITY TV program for the people of Afghanistan is violent and requires our dedication and sacrifice for some time. Our soldiers know this. Have a good read, a great summer, and we’ll have some interesting new articles for you in our fall edition.

Clive Addy, Executive Editor
© FrontLine Security 2007