After One of the Worst Winters Ever, the Spring Melt Prompts Better Emergency Communications Planning for Potential Flooding

Like most Canadians, you probably think this long and bitter cold winter has been the most extreme weather you’ve seen in years. And you’d be right. It’s no exaggeration because it literally has been the worst winter in decades. Record-breaking temperature drops, blizzards and ice storms have immobilized urban centres all season. Winnipeg recorded its second coldest winter on record since 1938 where hundreds of homes were left with frozen pipes. As of March 7, Toronto has been snowbound for 89 days straight. This most recent Maritime storm paralyzed the East Coast with power outages as hurricane-force wind gusts up to 100 km/h and whiteout conditions prevailed—well after the first official day of spring on March 20.  

Rapid melt of heavy snowfall could lead to flooding

We may want this wintry weather to go away, but how ready are we for the spring melt and the threat of overland flooding as all this snow turns to water? Most of the snow that has fallen this year is still on the ground. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, if you melt it all down, it amounts about 30 per cent more than average. Add rapid thaw or significant spring rainfall to the mix and we potentially have a major disaster on our hands. Communities across the country are already concerned about how to handle the high water and preparedness is an important conversation as we approach the one-year anniversary of the devastating Southern Albertan floods.

What lessons did we learn from the Alberta floods?

If Alberta’s floods taught us anything, it was how resilience and a quick, effective response can make all the difference during a crisis. A recent study showed that even post-flood, there are still critical gaps in many organizations’ emergency response plans. Four out of ten surveyed groups from the study said they updated their ERPs post-flood but many overlooked contact lists and steps for business continuity. This is the time to prepare and take action: before disaster strikes, not after. In all our flood mitigation efforts, crisis communication planning needs to be top of mind and first priority—not just on the part of homeowners but within corporations across Canada.

During the 2013 floods, Calgary organizations didn’t have up-to-date company directories that could be accessed and many couldn’t reach employees aside from email and manual phone calls. In this day and age where two-thirds of Canadians and 90 per cent of business people use smartphones, mobile technology offers better alternatives to reaching, informing and rallying the right people in the face of emergency.

Last year, Alberta municipalities and emergency management agencies were commended for their speedy and effective communication during the disaster. Over the last few months, many of those same groups are analyzing what worked and what didn’t for communications and are making changes so they are more prepared and resilient for next time. Corporations across Canada should follow their lead and be just as proactive as we head into flood season.

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