Learn how the Association of Municipal Administrators in NB helps build local resiliency.

By Christy Arseneau, Wanigan Consulting and Eddie Oldfield, Spatial Quest Solutions, Member, Resilient Communities Working Group, National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction

New Brunswick is one of Canada’s smaller provinces, with a population just under 750,000.    The majority of communities in the province are located near the coast or significant rivers, placing a number at risk to rising sea levels and flooding.  The Association of Municipal Administrators of New Brunswick (AMANB) recognized that many member municipalities were facing climate threats, and in 2014 set resiliency training as a priority for its membership.

The approach taken involved the dual goal of training to get municipalities thinking and talking about the subject, and an exploratory process to better understand the level of readiness to react and adapt to a changing climate.  The AMANB partnered with Spatial Quest, a Fredericton-based company focused on building healthier, more resilient, and smarter energy communities.

The training began with a multi-stakeholder workshop in the fall of 2014.  Done in charrette style, expert speakers were brought in, there were table-top exercises, and group discussion to share learning culminated the event.  Workshop participants had the opportunity to assess the resiliency of their own community by working through two of the tools that were presented: the Rural Disaster Resiliency Portal and the UN ISDR 10 Essentials for Disaster Risk Reduction. The results from that high-level exercise were eye-opening for many participants and led to valuable discussion for both participants and the AMANB with respect to future training needs.

Aligning neatly with two of the four international priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the primary lessons from the workshop experience were that there was a need and desire for more information and better data for hazard identification to understand the risk, and for investment in adaptation/resiliency efforts.  A complete report of the session was published on AMANB’s website: www.amanb-aamnb.ca

To help address information gaps, the AMANB then hosted 18 webinars touching on theories, tools, and options for community resiliency  action currently available to municipalities.  Reaching a wider audience and able to be viewed on demand, the webinars continue to be a valuable resource for resiliency practitioners.

In tandem with the training, AMANB assessed the level of resiliency awareness amongst its membership.  A phone survey was conducted with 42 municipal officials, representing 40% of all municipalities in New Brunswick.  Over half of the participants indicated a high or very high level of resiliency awareness.  The respondents with low awareness tended to be from smaller municipalities with limited capacity, or not directly involved in resiliency work.  Two clear areas of need emerged in the survey which aligned with the same Sendai priorities as the results of the 2014 workshop: understanding the risk (having access to data), and investing in risk reduction / climate adaptation.

The survey was followed up with in-depth interviews with selected Chief Administrative Officers, Emergency Management co-ordinators, and planners to identify local hazards of concern, community vulnerabilities, local needs/areas for improvement and mitigation efforts being taken, while also enabling knowledge exchange.  Local needs identified through this process were consistent with needs identified in the larger survey, but the interviews helped to understand more detailed aspects of the challenges and opportunities at a local level.

The overall effectiveness of the AMANB’s focus on resiliency continues to be assessed, but certain results are clear.  There is a mid to high level of awareness and interest amongst New Brunswick municipalities to improve resiliency.  The engagement and training AMANB provides are catalyzing municipal action to improve resiliency and supporting change in member communities.  An example of the impact of improved awareness can be seen in the coastal Village of Charlo, where existing erosion control measures are beginning to fail.  In the fall of 2016, citizens came together to form the Charlo Coastline Association with a goal of restoring and maintaining the Charlo coastline.  The municipality supported the initiative through communications and meeting space, and moral support  due to their awareness of the importance of the issue.  Recognising the municipality’s limited capacity to take action, citizens are developing creative methods to fund restoration and erosion control efforts along the coast, and building community understanding of the importance of taking action to reduce their risks in future climate events.

As discovered through the workshop and surveys, the capacity challenge experienced in Charlo is not unique in NB, particularly amongst smaller municipalities.  However, increased federal support (e.g. FCM Green Municipal Fund, the National Disaster Mitigation Program, etc) may help urban as well as small, rural, and remote communities advance their hazard and climate risk assessments, and develop and invest in resiliency measures.  In addition, there is a new requirement being phased in by the province of New Brunswick that municipalities must incorporate climate adaptation into their planning processes, and the province is indicating support to municipalities to help with this change.

Based on results to date, the AMANB continues to support resiliency training for its membership as they strive to meet the challenges of a changing world.  In early 2017, a number of regional workshops were facilitated, incorporating the latest information on the Sendai framework, climate change projections and emergency management frameworks.  Table-top exercises using local and regional maps, group discussion and an action planning round wrapped up the sessions.  Each workshop produced similar results, expanding municipal professionals’ understanding of climate risk and the modalities of building resiliency and emergency preparedness at a municipal level.  AMANB Education Chair Denis Poirier commented that “the workshops have been so well received that the original plan of 6 sessions has been expanded to 9.”  Supporting that sentiment, AMANB President Melanie MacDonald added: “we are very pleased that the decision to invest in climate resiliency training for our membership is beginning to show results, not just amongst members, but in the broader community as well.”

These projects were made possible thanks to the commitment of the Province of New Brunswick through the Environmental Trust Fund. The approaches used in New Brunswick are readily transferable to other Provincial and Territorial jurisdictions, and may provide a useful way to further engage municipalities to reduce risk but also assess progress toward meeting the Sendai targets and priorities.

Photo credits: Photo 1, 2, 5 by Alex Oldfield and Photo 3, 4 by Eddie Oldfield

Eddie Oldfield is passionate about building healthier, more resilient, smart energy communities. For 15+ years he has coordinated projects for national and provincial clients, involving a high level of municipal engagement and using geospatial information to support participatory community planning on climate change mitigation and adaptation/resiliency.  Currently, he is a member of the Resilient Communities Working Group under the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and he provides support for resiliency projects by AMANB.  He also Chairs a provincial advisory group (QUEST NB Caucus) on Smart Energy Communities for QUEST Canada, and he Co-Chairs a global health domain working group for a geospatial standards organization (Open Geospatial Consortium).  From 2001 to 2012, he worked as Director of the New Brunswick Climate Change Hub to conduct community engagement and public education initiatives.  He also coordinated 5 years of web-based mapping of environmental and health indicators, including a cross border pandemic exercise, with funding from Canadian and US Governments.  Nominated by Federation of Canadian Municipalities, he received a Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his community-oriented efforts to address climate change.

Christy Arseneau is a passionate, dynamic leader and learner who is not afraid of a challenge.  Having worked at municipal, regional and federal levels of government, she is now bringing her breadth of experience to work with communities as they strive to improve resiliency.

As CAO of Dalhousie, New Brunswick, she oversaw major re-structuring and re-aligning of the Town’s operations to adapt to a post-industrial economy.  Part of that work had a significant impact on the procedures of Council, and was nationally recognised with the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) Willis Award for Innovation in 2010.

Prior to joining the Town of Dalhousie, Christy held various policy-oriented positions with Natural Resources Canada on climate change, aboriginal and community forestry, and corporate planning.  She also supported a Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force and co-authored papers for the North American Forest Commission and United Nations Forum on Forests.

Christy holds a Master of Forest Conservation (Urban Forestry) from the University of Toronto, a Bachelor of Science in Forest Management from the University of New Brunswick, and National Advanced Certificate in Local Authority Administration Levels I and II from Dalhousie University.  She has attained Professional Certification Level 2 with the Association of Municipal Administrators of New Brunswick (AMANB), and is the representative for New Brunswick on the CAMA Board of Directors.

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