A study that described this summer’s flooding in Calgary exactly had been presented to city and provincial officials back in 2012 – and that should drive home to politicians everywhere the need to act on these studies before disaster strikes, insurers agree.
“All stakeholders need to reduce risk and seriously consider all cautionary reports and proposals for change,” George Hodgson, CEO of the Insurance Brokers Association of Alberta, told Insurance Business. “Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not include residential flood insurance. Increasing weather-related losses puts the public and possibly the economy at risk.
Public awareness is a key component of instigating change.”
The analysis of the Bow and Elbow rivers – begun in 2009 and finished in 2012 – was commissioned by the Alberta government and the city, but not made public.
In the days after the June flooding, Diana McQueen, then Alberta's environment minister, told reporters in the days after the June flooding that no one could have foreseen the level of devastation.
"What Alberta experienced in this past week is unprecedented, more rain, more quickly over a larger area than has ever been seen in this province,” she said at the time. “No report or recommendation looking at the lessons of the past could have prepared us for this event.” (continued.)
But the Golder Associates Ltd. study presented by consultants to provincial and city officials in the spring of 2012 mapped out what a 1-in-100-year flood would look like.
That study – correctly as it turned out – flagged the Bonnybrook Wastewater Treatment plant and several communities as being at risk.
“The IBAA is reviewing resources and materials from within our industry and from industry partners such as the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction in order to publish a list of resources that promote risk reduction measures for weather-related losses and address issues of residential property insurance,” says Hodgson. “We plan to include information that reflects the diverse interests of stakeholders – homeowners, builders, governments, research groups, and those in the insurance and restoration industries. Weather-related losses are predicted to increase with the growing extremes of climate change.”
John Pomeroy, Canada's Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan, said the report was a comprehensive update on previous studies, recalculating flood probabilities based on population growth along the floodplain.
"The increase in the area inundated was quite striking. The Centre Street area downtown, of course, and the area around 14th Street, the Bowness area, also as soon as you start to involve sewage treatment plants in the 1-in-100-year floodplain, that's a big concern,” Pomeroy said. (continued.)
City officials say they used the study for emergency planning, so that when a flood hit, they would know which areas to prioritize for evacuations and bridge closures.
The study wasn’t widely distributed because it was too technical for the general public, officials said.
However, the city pulled some of the data from the study, simplified it, and included it on a flood-risk web page, senior planning engineer Frank Frigo said.
A spokesperson at the environment ministry said the province was still discussing the study with the city when the June disaster struck.
Calgary-Shaw Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said his heart sank a little when he read the report.
"It felt rather bizarre reading it, almost like it was a road map for what we saw happen in the city this spring. It was almost eerie,” he said.
Hodgson says that the opportunity is there for brokers to play a key role in promoting the need for proper flood mitigation initiatives.
“Insurance brokers can play a key role in this. IBAA supports all endeavours, both privately and publicly funded, that will help to mitigate any type of natural disaster,” he says. “Association insurance brokers, who live in the same communities in which they do business, feel the impact of natural catastrophes personally and professionally. Personally, they pitch in as neighbours to help others in need. Professionally, they strive to provide the best available coverage at competitive pricing tailored to individual client needs.”