Enhancements to the Town of Stratford Emergency Measures Plan

by Greg McCormick, BA, EMD, ABCP, Emergency Management Program, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology[2]

Introduction

The purpose of any emergency plan is to make arrangements to deal with extraordinary situations which can affect the safety and security of people or property.  Under the Emergency Measures Act (R.S.P.E.I. 1990) and the Municipal Emergency Measures Organization Bylaw (#13, 1996), the Town of Stratford has developed a plan to deal with the consequences of hazards.

Over the last twenty years, there has been increasing attention towards the effects of global climate change and in particular the challenges for municipal emergency management.  In 2009 the Town participated in a climate change study sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Planners and Natural Resources Canada, entitled the Town of Stratford Climate Change Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP).  The Study authors noted that the Town’s emergency measures plan “should be reviewed with climate change scenarios in mind.”  This report recommends changes to the Town’s Emergency Measures Plan to address the consequences of climate change.

Before getting into the effects of climate change on emergency management, a distinction must be made between two forms of climate change. For example, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes a slower, longer-term concept of climate change over periods of twenty, fifty or even one hundred years. This concept differs sharply from an abrupt climate change[3] which suggests that the climate will rapidly swing from one extreme to another.  The distinction is important in that while the modeling of the climate change effects may be a twenty or a fifty-year projection, the time to begin making the necessary changes is already upon us.  The Town of Stratford’s MAP is based on the long-term concept of change.

The Effects of Climate Change on the Town of Stratford

The impetus for adapting the Town’s Emergency Measures Plan comes from the findings of the Climate Change Municipal Adaption Plan (MAP).  The report aimed to integrate existing scientific climate change data and adaption processes with community knowledge of climate change, in order to address the concerns the community had towards its planning initiatives[4].  Through a series of phases, the report’s authors familiarized themselves with the Town, its leadership, its members (the community) and the issues, risks and threats towards the Town.  What resulted is a tool which can guide the Town in developing appropriate measures to mitigate the climate change issues and revise the Emergency Plan to address anticipated hazards related to climate change.

The MAP report captured information about the current state of climate change using existing data.  It should be noted that most of the data was written for Atlantic Canada as a whole, or for a specific location, such as the North Shore of P.E.I., or the City of Charlottetown.  This information was modified to serve the needs of the MAP, making assumptions based on scientific facts where appropriate.  The following is a list of concerns that have direct linkages to emergency management issues:

  • Significant erosion has occurred in numerous places along the shoreline, including in areas where housing is set very close to the shoreline thus placing the dwelling in a vulnerable state due to its proximity to the water’s edge.
  • Many significant pieces of infrastructure are placed in areas close to the shoreline, or in areas that have seen significant flooding.
  • Intense storm and precipitation events have resulted in significant flooding in the local parks.
  • Flooding has the potential to impact multi-family housing, along with important municipal infrastructure.
  • Winter weather patterns have also resulted in significant climate related impacts such as frequent freeze/thaw cycles which are viewed as exacerbating the coastal erosion issues.
  • Storm surges during the winter months have deposited sea ice on private land, with some examples of property damage.
  • Saltwater intrusion into well-water in some areas.

The Effects of Climate Change on Emergency Management

There is a growing and overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that global climate change is happening; the earth’s temperature is rising, humans are contributing to it, and that no matter what we do today the temperature will continue to rise.  Of concern to legislative bodies across North America is that this phenomenon will lead to an increase in both severity and frequency of severe or extreme weather.  Other impacts include higher temperatures, increased potential for droughts, increased rates of glacial melting, which will in turn raise sea levels globally[5].

To define the climate change problem in an emergency management context, the most fitting description would be that of a natural disaster, albeit a slow one.  This “climate change disaster” lacks the predicable features of common disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and droughts.  Furthermore it lacks the ability for a quick and measured response, and the ability to begin recovery operations.  Rather, climate change as a disaster is going to be something that changes our perceptions of what disasters are.  The duration of the effects of climate change are long-term, both in the sense of duration and the time it takes for the impact to occur.  As emergency management planning principles generally revolve around shorter time frames, such as ten years, the immediate difficulty is the lack of consistent time frames between the two issues.

Climate Change Enhancements to the Stratford Emergency Measures Plan

Considering that only 42% of Canadians stated they were prepared for a disaster (based on a 2009 poll commissioned by Allstate Insurance Company of Canada 2009) and furthermore, that 54% of Canadians expected to deal with a disaster in the next ten years, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Town of Stratford must have a functional and realistic emergency management plan in place, ready to respond[6].  The issue now is how to improve the Town’s plan in the face of climate change.

The Stratford Emergency Measures Plan (EM Plan) follows that of other jurisdictions within the Province, based on a template offered to municipalities by the P.E.I. Office of Public Safety.  This plan is designed to be an all-hazards plan[7], which allows Stratford to have one plan that can serve any number of situations that might affect the Town.  The Plan deals with the primary issues associated to an emergency situation without getting into specific “how-to” tasks associated to the role.  A series of annexes support the plan, offering necessary forms, legal framework, layout of the emergency operations centre, and responsibilities and resources for the Town’s emergency measures control group.  The plan is reviewed annually by the Chief Administrative Officer and while the Mayor and Council approve the plan, the P.E.I. Office of Public Safety reviews the plan for consistency and accuracy.

One area of the Emergency Measures Plan that could be enhanced, in order to be better prepared for the effects of climate change, is Annex G – Evacuation.  Although Stratford has developed an emergency plan based on the all-hazards planning concept, the information contained within Annex G is really based on human induced risks such as transportation incidents involving dangerous goods. These unpredictable incidents can occur anywhere in the Town; therefore some flexibility is necessary as having a plan that is too rigid will force responders to deal with issues that the plan did not anticipate.

When considering a natural disaster due to climate change, some predictability is possible.  As climate change is going to be a long-lasting event, giving emergency management personnel the opportunity to enhance their plans and procedures as time goes on, the Stratford EM Plan could benefit from having an annex that covers evacuations as a result of natural disasters, primarily flooding. The MAP had, for the purposes of the report, used the Town’s Storm Water Management Plan as a means of highlighting possible flooding scenarios based on the climate change problem.  Building a flood evacuation annex would offer a number of benefits and use of the names of subdivisions or local parks would make it easy for the public to understand what areas are at risk of flooding. As well, the annex could include a list of shelters specific to these flood-prone areas.

Other Emergency Management Options Available to the Town of Stratford

While the Emergency Measures Plan is going to be the primary tool in the Town’s response to a disaster, there are other activities that the Town can undertake that will mitigate the effects of climate change, and ultimately better prepare the Town for the changes it faces.

Develop a Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy

Stratford’s Emergency Measures Plan is designed to be reactive; a situation develops, awareness of the situation occurs, the emergency measures plans dictates certain activities, and the community deals with the response and recovery of the event.  What if the Town had mitigated the problem long before it became one?

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is a systematic approach to reducing the risk of disasters within the Town, by going beyond emergency planning, and mitigating the problem.  This includes activities not normally associated to emergency management, such as urban land use planning, by taking into consideration the effects of climate change on the terrain of Stratford and preventing people from building homes or businesses in areas that are vulnerable to certain threats.

There are several steps associated to DRR planning.

Hazard and Vulnerability Risk Assessment (HVRA) – Stratford would benefit from a HVRA process, not only in terms of the DRR plan, but in terms of the emergency measures plan as well.  While hazards are typically classified as “human-induced“ and “natural“, in reality they are very much linked. For example, the coastal erosion that undermined the foundation of a residence, forcing it to be abandoned, may only be part of the cause. One must take into consideration that land-use planning allowed the home owner to build too close to the edge of the cliff, in an area known to be susceptible to increased erosion.  Ultimately, it is the intention of the assessment to determine the underlying causes of the hazards, which will further help with determining frequency, severity and emerging trends associated to the hazard.

The vulnerability assessment focuses on the susceptibility of the Town`s residents towards a particular hazard through their ability to absorb, cope, respond and recover from the effects of that hazard.  Age, gender, physical abilities and socio-economic status all have a role to play in the vulnerability of the Town`s residents, and are therefore part of the DRR process.

Upon completion of the HRVA, Stratford can then prioritize what hazards need to be dealt with first, and whether or not they can control the potential for the hazard to become a disaster.

Mitigation Measures – mitigation measures are designed to minimize the disaster from all fronts; frequency, severity, intensity and impact are all targets of a mitigation plan.  As an example, the MAP noted that the Town`s waste infrastructure in the Pondside Park area was prone to flooding. By installing permanent measures to protect the lift station from water damage, the integrity of the sewer system is protected, and thus preventing other issues from arising as a result of the loss of the lift station.

Preparedness Plans – The Town has already started down this path, by completing and maintaining an emergency measures plan, but the Town`s residents need their own level of preparedness. Business Continuity Planning is a concept that will ensure that critical services are protected and capable of functioning if the disaster were to affect the Town`s operations.  Business continuity works in partnership with the emergency measures plan, providing for the resources necessary to ensure the EM plan can be sustained when necessary.

Conclusion

Despite its size and relative safety from disasters, Stratford will not escape the effects of our changing environment.  Climate change for the Town of Stratford means an increase in severe weather, including the severity of these storms, a rise in sea levels which will increase the rate of coastal erosion, and a higher likelihood of flooding in areas that only saw such events on an infrequent basis.  While the Town’s emergency measures plan is capable of providing a response to such events through its all-hazard approach, the reality is that these events will likely cause evacuations of residential neighbourhoods, something the Town has never experienced.  Enhancing the evacuation portion of the Town’s emergency measures plan will provide specific advice and tools to the decision-makers and emergency responders that will take the guess work out of the emergency response.

Additionally, Stratford needs to look beyond the approach of simply having an emergency measures plan.  Changes to public policy and public attitudes towards mitigation and preparedness are necessary steps to prepare the Town for the changes in our environment and our interaction with it.  As climate change is slowly leading us towards a new understanding of what natural disasters mean, the advantage is on our side.   The damage to our environment cannot be undone; the time to prepare is now.

 

[1] This paper has been significantly edited for length to meet the criteria for HazNet’s acceptance of student papers

[2]  Prepared for Robert Hughes, P. Eng., CAO, Town of Strattford

[3] Abrupt climate change – The nonlinearity of the climate system may lead to abrupt climate change, sometimes called rapid climate change, abrupt events or even surprises. The term abrupt often refers to time scales faster than the typical time scale. However, not all abrupt climate changes need to be externally caused.  Some possible abrupt events that have been proposed, including a dramatic reorganization of the mohaline circulation, rapid de-glaciation and massive melting of permafrost or increases in soil respiration, leading to fast changes in the carbon cycle.

[4] Town of Stratford Climate Change Municipal Adaptation Plan,  K. Greene & A. Robichaud,  Natural Resources Canada; Ottawa, 2009

[5] Climate Change: An Emergency Management Perspective, R. Schneider, Disaster Prevention & Management, Vol.20, No. 1; 2011

[6] “Canadians Not Prepared for the Emergency They Believe is Immanent”, Canadian Newswire; Toronto, May 2009

[7] An All Hazards plan is appropriate and in line with the recommendations of experienced practitioners and academics.