Calgary’s Cowboy Style Emergency Management – take #2

This article in HuffPost/Canada today really got my goat: Naheed Nenshi Tells World Economic Forum Clear Communication Key After Natural Disasters. Once again, the well-meaning but free-lance style of emergency management used in Calgary Alberta after the floods this past spring leave me wondering why the basic tenets of emergency management are so unknown or ignored by public officials in a major city. [And he got invited to Davos to talk about his maverick version of emergency management!]

The Calgary Mayor’s personal version of disaster response might have worked, at least once, in Calgary, but most of what he recommended makes no sense for efficient and effective emergency management; e.g.,

  • Mayor serving as Public Information Officer
  • Mayor getting no sleep and having no backup,
  • Empowering thousands of untrained, amateur bldg. inspectors.

In reading a second press account of what the mayor said – Naheed Nenshi discusses resilience to flood at Davos forum   I am even more infuriated.  Here he is quoted as saying the recovery process went well. Too bad no one else had a chance to speak to that statement, since that does not appear to be true by traditional emergency management standards, in my opinion. Plus the term resilience seems to be used in an imprecise and not helpful way..

My  first take on this topic was back in June 2013, when I did a posting that was critical of the use of debits cards as a means of providing disaster assistance to disaster victims.  See:

In this past year, two big Canadian Cities — Calgary and Toronto — have displayed a remarkable lack of preparation for disasters and have used mainly ad hoc means to muddle their their way through major disaster events. Some innovation is to be expected after a disaster, but more strategic thinking and planning seems to be needed.

Toronto’s Failure to Assess and Learn from Recent Disaster

From the HuffPost/Canada: What Toronto Should Learn From the Ice Storm Crisis. The importance of after-action reviews ( hotwashes as they are called in the U.S.) and learning from experience are emphasized here.

I did some earlier postings about issues in Toronto at the end of 2013 if you want to review the issues identified during the disaster. The main issue was the lack of a local emergency declaration.

Update on Jan. 9th: a new report calls for requesting a declaration, even at this late date, to aid the recovery process.

Confusion re Costs of Calgary Flood

It is usually easier to determine the cost categories for disasters than it is to determine who will pay for what.  It appears that various Canadian officials are trying to sort it out presently.

Alberta finance minister totes up flood costs in update

Alberta’s finance minister says the bills are coming in for flood recovery in southern Alberta and the price tag is “very high.”Doug Horner says $148 million has been spent so far on flood relief and another $556 million has been allocated for the coming months.

Horner …confirmed Premier Alison Redford’s earlier estimate that the final bill to be shared by insurers and three levels of government will be around $5 billion.“This was an unprecedented disaster and it comes with a very high price tag,” Horner told a news conference. “The June floods precipitated the immediate evacuation of about 100,000 people from their homes (and) more than 14,500 homes have been damaged.”

About $1.7 billion of the $5-billion cost is expected to be covered by insurance companies, he said. The rest will be up to governments, but it hasn’t been determined who owes what.

The final quote in the article gets to a point I made months ago, shortly after the disaster happened and promises were flying!

When the premier promised at the outset to pay every dime of every cost for everybody in the province, I thought it was pretty thoughtless of her.”

Thanks once again to Franklin McDonald, my Canadian contact who forwards news clips about their disasters.

Review of Alberta Province’s Role in Recovery of Calgary

English: Alberta Province within Canada. Españ...

As it often the case, the people affected by a major disaster who are not happy with the response and/or recovery efforts of the public sector want to see an independent review. A major review occurred in Christchurch N.Z  after the 2011 earthquake there — see the NZ page of this blog for the full text of the Assessment report. And in the U.S. there were independent studies after Hurricane Katrina (there were several national level reports) and after  Superstorm Sandy — a major report on recovery strategy is due out in a couple of weeks.

Now, the liberals in Calgary and elsewhere in Canada are calling for an independent study of the role and responsibilities of Alberta province with regard to response and flood policies. See: Liberal Leader Calling for Federal Flood Review.

Another article appeared today re covering the costs of recovery. Seems to me the issue of who pays for what is a matter that should have been  decided long ago. Granted there will be special cases and exceptions for Calgary, but where was the plan for a major disaster and its aftermath? As the old saying goes, The aftermath of a disaster is not the time to exchange business cards.

Update on Calgary Flood Recovery — as of July 5

Calgary Alberta

As is typically true of the recovery phase, in the weeks following the disaster realistic assessments of the damage and impact of the event start to become known. As the bad news  sinks in with victims they get cranky, overwhelmed, and begin to complain.  Here are a few examples of the major outcomes now known:

Thanks to Franklin McDonald for providing some of these newsclips.

Update on July 5: the City of Calgary has done an interesting Infographic re the flood disaster.

Background Info on Calgary Floods

(1) What was Known Before the Floods:

Some excerpts from an article titled: Alberta should have heeded flood report: experts

An expert says devastation could have been reduced in southern Alberta if the government had followed its own report on how to lessen the effects of severe flooding.The report was completed by a government task force in 2006 in the wake of a flood the previous year that killed three people and caused $400 million in damage in many of the same communities hit by high water in recent days

.“In my opinion, if this report had been implemented, I sincerely believe that the damage we are seeing right now could have been reduced,” Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, said Monday from Toronto.“I thought this report did a really good job covering the right topics and offering very specific advice on what should be done.”

The report called for extensive mapping of flood risk areas and said 36 communities required flood risk assessments. It also called on the government to stop selling Crown land in flood-prone areas and to prohibit disaster recovery payments for new, inappropriate developments in flood risk zones. Seven years later, it’s not clear how many of the report’s 18 recommendations have been put in place.

The full report, issued in 2006, is here.  Thanks to Chris Jones for providing the link. (No longer available. Updated version, June 2013,  and 2006 Status Update.)

(2) What Now Needs To Be Determined:

Alberta Floods Have Changed The Rockies Forever, Says Scientist

The Diva wants to thank her friends and colleagues in Canada for sending her these news articles.

Disaster Response – Canadian Cowboy style

Calgary Stampede

Calgary Stampede

The title of the article is Government Rides to the Rescue with Debit Cards, and the promises are amazing. No mention of disaster recovery centers, no mention of the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations, and no mention of the local emergency management agency.  Just debit cards on their way — the card is in the mail, I guess.

My first reaction is shock.  Some years ago, FEMA mailed checks to addresses in the zip codes of victims after the Northridge Earthquake (1994) without checking on their eligibility and that did not work out very well. Then after Hurricane Katrina(2005), a huge amount of fraud and abuse occurred because FEMA could not adequately  account for payments made.

Hope the folks in Calgary and Alberta fare better than their neighbor to the south, but I doubt it.


June 25 Update: From an article titled: Political Promise for Flood Crisis is Remarkably Risky Move:

Who will argue with the goal? Not me. Even Wildrose is holding fire on this, supporting spending while criticizing the government for previously wasting the rainy day money before the serious water arrived.But despite her admirable motives and goals, Redford is taking a spectacular risk.

She promises to do a job when she doesn’t know what the job is, or how much money will be needed.“We don’t know what the final cost will be,” she said in an interview with the Herald’s Chris Varcoe. “We don’t yet have the long-term plan.”

June 27 Update: The Stampede will go on.

New Page on Canada Added to this Blog

Check out the new page on Canada that has been added to this blog. The addition had been planned, but now there is a major disaster event unfolding. See details about the major flooding in Calgary, Alberta on the new page. I think this major disaster event will provide an interesting example of how the Canadian EM system works and how recovery is handled there. June 22: Details from an AP news release.

Readers with flood recovery experience and suggestions re written resources are urged to contribute.

On the Canada page I am posting what I can in terms of are a general list of recommended resources about past flood recovery and specifically some Canadian examples of recovery. The Diva got some quick assistance from two university-based librarians, in an effort to provide some useful background for those involved with Calgary.

Major Cuts in Canadian EM Resources

English: Canadian Flag

From, June 22:  Stakeholders cry foul as feds cut funding for emergency preparedness

Looks like some serious butting cutting in Canada has gone way past the fat and into the quick. It is a sad day indeed when education and training are cut from the Canadian budget. I sure hope the EM  folks get to come to the U.S. and compensate for that shortsighted action.

Among the cuts in the omnibus budget bill, the government quietly cancelled the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP) established in 1980 and ceased operations at the Canadian Emergency Management College which has offered training to emergency responders since 1954. The cuts were billed as a deficit reduction measure.

How is this for reasoning:

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ press secretary Julie Carmichael further noted “the original objectives of this program — namely to enhance local emergency preparedness and response capacity — have been met.”

Unbelievable!  No need for EM education and training to continue, since we did that. Might as well abolish public schools, if that line of thinking prevails!