Are we ready for extreme weather?

b821319908z-1_20130709221459_000_g0a117hvu-2_contentCheck out this piece in the spec.com written by our communications coordinator, Beatrice Ekoko, asking the question, “how prepared are our communities for increasing extreme weather events?” Here is the complete article:

Globally, heat waves, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms and flooding are becoming more frequent and increasingly intense with climate change. How prepared are we for extreme weather events — both in the home and as a community?

On a personal level I’ll admit that I don’t even have a flashlight at the ready, let alone the recommended two litres of water daily per person stored away. I don’t know where I would go in the event of an electrical blackout.

From a broader perspective, federal and provincial governments do provide direction related to emergency response planning and the city of Hamilton has an Emergency Plan in place. The emergency plan outlines how the City and its emergency response agencies will co-ordinate themselves to respond to a large-scale emergency — describing roles, responsibilities, and guidelines to follow, so as to protect Hamiltonians.

For the most part though, the plan is more reactive than adaptive in scope. Yet severe weather is the number 1 risk to municipalities.

What’s needed is a more holistic approach to planning for extreme weather events. This approach includes involving community agencies, and other local groups to assist — because cities can’t do it all alone.

A great model of how such community engagement can be utilized is in the work that the city of Brampton is doing. Not only are they working with local agencies, they are also leaning on faith organizations to share the load.

After the ice storm of 2013, City of Brampton’s Emergency Management Office (BEMO) turned to social agencies and faith-based organizations so that when another extreme weather event occurs, they will be well prepared.

BEMO developed a “Vulnerability Map” connecting places of worship across the city to known vulnerable populations. These centers include a wide range of religions such as: Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Christian. Together with candidates from these groups, the City of Brampton has started an initiative called “Project Lighthouse.” It’s a point of rendezvous for people needing guidance and support during emergencies.

This is the sort of work that the national, interfaith network, Faith & the Common Good (FCG) is developing further, aiming to encourage faith communities across the country in becoming “resilience hubs.” The group is in the process of exploring how eight diverse Toronto faith communities can be better utilized as neighbourhood service centres during extreme weather situations.

Another group to watch is Toronto-based, Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW). CREW provides training, tools and strategies to help neighbours help neighbours. They are working on developing a network of neighbourhood stakeholders including community groups, residents, faith groups, businesses etc. and a “vulnerable people list.”

CREW is also mapping neighbourhood resiliency, climate hazards and risks in neighbourhoods across Toronto wards, along with its local strengths and weaknesses.

Conservation Authorities play a major role in helping to prepare out cities for extreme weather. Within our watershed, the Hamilton Conservation Authority provides information and natural hazard overview to the City in the event of an emergency or issue related to natural hazards. HCA works with the City of Hamilton as part of their Emergency Operations Centre to provide information to them in the event of an emergency related to storm events and flooding and erosion issues.

Scott Peck, Director of Watershed Planning and Engineering explains in a email how HCA’s planning and regulation program works to ensure that development is directed away from natural hazards to ensure that in the case of a storm, flooding or erosion event, that development and people are not in harm’s way.

“Our stewardship program works with landowners to educate them on the role of private lands in natural hazard and heritage issues and to be stewards of the land,” Scott writes.

The HCA owns and manages approximately 11,000 acres of land within our watershed. This land provides for natural attenuation of weather events through wetlands and forests. “These natural heritage lands and their role in the hydrologic cycle also are one of our best defences against climate change by maintaining these lands as natural features on the landscape,” says Peck. “Forests, meadows, creeks, rivers and wetlands provide their own resiliency to weather events and mitigate these events in a natural way as opposed to engineered solutions.”

Our neighbouring city of Toronto is working with Toronto Regional Conservation Authority to naturalize their watersheds. Together, they are also promoting green infrastructure, green roofs, rain gardens, and encouraging the use of rain barrels as significant methods to control flooding and absorb rain.