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Calgary flood prevention plan modified to fit COVID-19 protocols

The snow is melting and warmer times lie ahead. This coincides with the arrival of high river flows in Calgary and the potential for flooding.

May 15 to July 15 is typically the danger period for potential flooding on the Bow and Elbow Rivers, according to the city.

Since 2013’s historic floods, the city and province have invested heavily in flood protection. This year, the city was forced to take a new approach to flood prevention as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to complicate all aspects of life.

In addition to the permanent infrastructure put in place this past year, the city is emphasizing preparedness and communication with citizens.

This shift was done in an attempt to adjust to COVID protocols. Ensuring that in a disaster response situation, citizens, city staff, and response crews are all kept safe, with COVID in mind.

Preparedness messaging

Channels of communication have been simplified, so flood messaging is easy to digest.

Sandy Davis, team lead of river engineering at the City of Calgary, goes into detail about how the city had to modify its messaging in light of COVID-19.

“We are cognisant that there is a lot of message fatigue. These messages can be trumped by everything else that is going on in people’s worlds right now. We are trying to fine-tune the communication by simplifying it, emphasizing three points,” Davis said.

  1. Knowing how someone is affected by flooding. Be it directly, or if you have to house evacuees.

2. Being prepared and knowing the need for an emergency plan.

3. Staying informed. The city has a website dedicated to informing the public about apps that alert them to potential environmental dangers.

Being mindful of COVID during disasters  

Situations like leaving a house to stay with another person are more complicated now. Especially if one party is an at-risk person. Be they elderly, or immunocompromised. Merging households requires extra steps, which complicates an already devastating situation.

This type of preparation extends to response crews and how they are mobilized, Davis said.

“With a lot of crews gathering together to get their equipment and to get their assignments for the day, our field teams have had to look at how we can do that without everyone congregating together,” Davis said.

“It has to be seamless, so it doesn’t impact the way response is carried out. So that means spreading crews across many different locations, allowing them to gather and equip themselves safely.”

New infrastructure

In terms of permanent structures, several projects were completed to help future floodwater mitigation.

One major project completed involved upgrades to the Glenmore Dam.

“Calgary is better prepared because of key investments in over a dozen flood mitigation projects across the city. Those investments include higher steel gates at the Glenmore Dam that double the capacity of the Glenmore Reservoir to help protect communities along the Elbow River,” the release stated.

This allows for a modified emergency response plan. The Glenmore reservoir can now mitigate smaller-scale flood events, like the one in 2005. More resources can now be directed to other, more vulnerable areas.

Another project completed was barriers in Montgomery. Planned extensions of the flood barriers from Eau Claire Plaza to Reconciliation Bridge are also now in the works, with designs being completed.

Moving forward with new modifications

Once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, the protocols put in place this year will no longer be needed. Davis does acknowledge that there have been lessons learned from these modifications.

“It has been a really good exercise, in terms of the flexibility that’s required during emergency response. This last year or two has allowed us to exercise the preparations we’ve made in previous years around assumptions that more than one thing can go wrong at once.”

Calgarians can prepare themselves more for potential flooding by visiting the City’s flood preparedness page.