Magazine article Risk Management

Mastering Disasters in Canada

Magazine article Risk Management

Mastering Disasters in Canada

Article excerpt

There is an old saying to the effect that it is easier to sell fire insurance just after there has been a fire on the block. The same observation probably also holds true for encouraging desired legislation or other preventative measures following natural disasters.

Heaven knows we have had an unusual number of natural disasters in Canada recently, which should help with some of our legislative endeavors. These disasters have ranged from the Saguenay flooding in 1996 to the Winnipeg flooding in 1997 and the Quebec ice storms in early 1998. In between, we have had to contend with hailstorms in the prairie provinces and abnormal snowfall levels on the west coast. In addition, there is increasing concern about the possibility of a major earthquake, either in British Columbia or in Quebec.

Much of this damage has been blamed on El Nino, global warming or a combination of the two. The El Nino phenomenon should become less of a threat in the near future, but being cyclical, it is certain to return. Global warming, however, is likely to deteriorate weather conditions further unless adequate steps are taken to forestall it.

So what are we to do? Another old saying, usually attributed to Mark Twain, is that "everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." This is no longer entirely true. A couple of positive actions that have been taken recently include the fairly successful hail suppression program being conducted in Alberta and the construction of the Duff Roblin diversion "ditch" in Manitoba to protect Winnipeg from rising rivers and flood damage.

To prevent a recurrence of the damage and suffering caused by the Quebec ice storm, authorities are re-examining their construction standards and looking for ways to reinforce or supplement the previously overcentralized power system. In addition to repair and reconstruction costs of about $500 million, Hydro Quebec has announced that it plans to spend billions of dollars over five years to build new hydro dams and transmission lines to improve links with other companies.

Preventing the occurrence of an earthquake is another matter entirely--all we can really do is try to reduce the consequences. In British Columbia, revisions to construction building codes are being based on lessons learned from recent quakes in Kobe, Japan, San Francisco and other locations. In addition, seismic upgrades are being made to existing structures, various loss control measures are being developed and hands-on training (including rescue techniques) is being conducted for emergency brigades. …

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