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IBC explores severe weather adaptation

Richard Gilbert
IBC explores severe weather adaptation

The Insurance Board of Canada (IBC) has hired a consulting firm from England to use a new multi-million dollar technology to fight against water damage caused by flooding and help government adapt infrastructure to climate change.

"We were asked to produce a consistent set of Canada wide flood maps that cover river and fluvial flooding," said Simon Waller, JBA Risk Management managing director.

"We will be finished in a few months and it will probably represent the best consistent nationwide view of flood risk."

Waller made this statement at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ annual general meeting in Edmonton on June 5, during a workshop called "Fighting urban flooding: partnerships, prevention and preparedness."

Sally Turney IBC Communications and Events director, defined overland flooding as a significant rainfall that overwhelms rivers and city infrastructure, which causes water to seep across lawns and roads, and into homes and businesses.

The IBC is the national industry association representing Canada’s private home, auto and business insurers. ​Its member companies represent 90 per cent of the Canadian property and casualty insurance market.

Adaptation to severe weather has been identified by the IBC as a priority issue, due to a rapid increase in payouts and the devastating toll that losses are having on Canadians.

For example, Turney said catastrophe yearly losses from home and car insurers in Canada averaged about $400 million between 1983 and 2008. A catastrophic loss is a single event that causes $25 million or more in losses.

In the four years after 2008, catastrophic losses were about $1 billion a year. As a result of the flood in southern Alberta and the Greater Toronto area, catastrophic losses hit a total of $3.2 billion in 2013. Total claims settled down to what seems to be a new normal of $1 billion in 2014.

"Flood risk is increasing in Canada because there is a rapidly increasing population, which is becoming more urbanized," said Waller.

"So, 81 per cent of the population lives in an urban environment. There is also an increase in wealth and the climate is getting warmer. So when there is a flood the cost is increasing."

However, the total economic cost of flooding is far greater than insurance losses, because the government and tax payers are responsible for the repair and reconstruction of public infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

In response to this challenge, JBA is using a Municipal Risk Assessment Tool (MRAT), which combines information about municipal infrastructure, current and future climate, and insurance claims.

"To produce a flood map, we need to know how much water is going to flow down a river during a flood event and how much rainfall is going to fall from the sky, in order to drive our flood mapping processes," said Waller.

"The second side of it is looking at the flooding that occurs from direct rainfall. This where the drains are overwhelmed and determining where the water is going to go."

City engineers in Canada will use the technology to get a picture of where sewer and stormwater infrastructure is vulnerable today, and where it will be vulnerable in 2020 and in 2050.

"We use computer simulations and we rely on good quality data to do that," said Waller.

"The better and more data we get is the better we can do our modeling."

MRAT data are displayed as risk maps, which will be used to plan and prioritize infrastructure repairs, adjust service levels and support requests for federal infrastructure dollars.

Currently, Coquitlam, B.C., Hamilton, Ont. and Fredericton, N.B. are participating in an MRAT pilot project.

"For municipalities, if you can understand where your major risks are and mitigate some of that, then you can save your taxpayers a lot of money down the road," said Doug Horner, Alberta’s former deputy premier and finance minister.

"From a mitigation perspective, the first step is understanding what your risks are and where is the flood plain in your community," said Horner.

"It is necessary to have an emergency preparedness plan and do serious scenario planning."

After 14 years as an MLA, Horner resigned from his position in January 2015. He was among a number of senior ministers who were left out of former Premier Jim Prentice’s new cabinet September 2014.

"It really boils down to you can pay to do something today, or you can pay a lot more when you have to rebuild them later," said Horner.

"Having that kind of preparedness model, understanding your risks and understanding what insurance can do for you, is all part and parcel of what leaders should be talking about today."

Horner is pursuing a career in the private sector as a partner with the Canada Asia Synergy Group. He is currently working with the IBC, because of his experience with the Alberta floods in 2013.

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