Knee-jerk reactions to catastrophes will no longer work, since climate change actually decreases the predictability of events, Richard Kinchlea, the City of Hamilton's community emergency management coordinator, said during a seminar in Toronto. Given increasingly complex societies and economies, one 'minor' event could have a domino effect that spirals into astronomical damage figures. This leads to the importance of all levels of government -- particularly municipal governments -- developing programs to ensure the protection of critical infrastructure during times of disaster.
Hosted by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Kinchlea discussed a groundbreaking critical infrastructure assurance program (CIAP) that the City of Hamilton and Niagara Region are jointly developing. While CIAPs are currently underway on the provincial, federal and even international level, Kinchlea says this is the first attempt at developing such a program on the local level, at "ground zero."
RESILIENCE V. RESPONSE
Just looking at the research, Kinchlea said, it's easy to see today's disaster trends include an increase in the frequency of events and mounting costs of damages. Although improving the response to a catastrophe is a step forward, Kinchlea says climate change has muddied the ability to tell what the next big catastrophe will hold, making it difficult to plan a response. The focus when constructing a plan should be about strengthening infrastructure and developing resilience in order to mitigate the risk of damage and injury, he said. In turn, this should reduce the overall cost of such an event.
"The cost of response [to a catastrophe] is really minor compared to the cost of damage overall," he said. "So improving our response, although a good idea, is not going to have a significant impact on what we do moving forward. We have to make our infrastructure more resilient."
He pointed to the 2003 blackout as an example of one seemingly minor event that had a catastrophic impact on the economy.
"With a complex society, we can have one little tornado or blackout and it could throw the entire system into chaos and cause millions or billions of dollars in damage or lost productivity, or however you want to put that dollar figure together," he warned.
Enter the CIAP. The general set-up of such a program, he explained, is to take an inventory of infrastructure and split it up into sectors. Right now in Canada, the federal government has 10 sectors and Ontario has nine, including the likes of electricity, food and water, gas, public health, public safety and continuity of governance.
"You get representatives of those sectors meeting together to figure out who's doing what [in terms of mitigation programs], what's critical to our society to keep running in the face of an emergency and what are the vulnerabilities in that system," he said. "And if we figure out what our vulnerabilities are in that system, how do we put together programs to either make the system more resilient [i.e. by plugging a gap] or improve a response?" A co-ordinating committee pulls everything together to develop a comprehensive mitigation plan that crosses all of the sectors and, hopefully, addresses all of the shared vulnerabilities.
Provincial and federal governments are developing their CIAPs, Kinchlea noted. And so it only makes sense to form one on the municipal level, since, when disaster strikes, the damaged infrastructure is located within the municipality.
"In an emergency, the municipality is the first one on the ground that has to deal with whatever has occurred," He said. "Who's impacted? The municipality.
"We're starting at ground zero, so to speak, so we're going to be hurt first and [suffer] consequential damages after that. Who benefits from greater resilience? Well, anyone who is impacted is going to benefit from greater resilience and that just ripples through the economy."
Quite often it's not the initial event that poses the problem, he continued. It tends to be a second event, triggered by the first. He pointed to the devastating 2005 flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina weakened the city's levee system.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
There is one primary difference between the CIAPs of the federal and provincial governments and the one currently being designed by Kinchlea's team for the City of Hamilton-Region of Niagara, Kinchlea noted. Instead of having 'sector working groups,' the municipal CIAP will have 'system working groups,' which focus on service delivery rather than physical assets.
"One of the key differences between the system that we're proposing and the provincial and federal ones, is that quite often in CIAPs the sector groups are interested in physical assets like the hydro network or the telecommunications network -- hard things you can sit and fix," he explained. "Ours looks more at service delivery. Physical assets are important, but they're only elements of the service delivery. So if you look to emergency medical care, you may have all of the ambulances in the world, but what happens if you don't have paramedics?"
When you start talking about service delivery and the people element, then you can start contemplating sticky elements like contracts and working conditions, Kinchlea said. You can also address non-standard items such as the idea that maybe responders' families should take precedence, so that the responders can concentrate and perform better in the face of a disaster, he suggested. "So, we want to look at physical assets as a piece of the whole puzzle, but the concept is to look at the service that's being delivered during the emergency."
The municipality's systems groups -- including fuel and energy, food availability, potable water and sewage disposal, transportation, economic health, emergency health care, among others -- would essentially form a chain or a system that needs to be tracked from origin to destination.
"You can't treat these things as separate items," Kinchlea said. "An ambulance can't run without gas, so an ambulance is part of the emergency medical system. The food can't get delivered without gas, or the trucks don't run. Interdependencies are going on." By looking at vulnerabilities, single points of failure and choke-points within those systems, a CIAP analyzes the entire system to figure out what's most likely to go first, and what's there to replace it.
"The nice thing about the CIAPs being developed now is that they really organize it in, I hate to say it, a very bureaucratic way," he said. "They get people from the different sectors around the table and sharing the information that they should be sharing, realizing the interdependencies that they have on one another and not just addressing a certain problem."
Ad hoc groups tend to develop solutions only for problems that just happened, not necessarily the problems coming down the line, he added. "If you put in a risk assessment and go through the entire system and do a vulnerability assessment, you start to see where you're really weak," He said. "I think this is one of the best methodologies we can use to forecast which problems may occur. And when you have the whole system together, then you can get some coordination in mitigation programs.
"It's a think-tank way of doing it, but it gets the people around the table and thinking about our systems in an analytical way to try and forecast these kinds of events or mitigate against these events."