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Three Calgary hazards elevated to ‘high-risk’ in city emergency management report

Civil disobedience rises up the scale of risk in Calgary's latest emergency management review, but climate-related risks remain top of mind.

Three former low-risk Calgary emergency management scenarios have been bumped up into the high-risk category

Members of Calgary’s emergency management committee heard Wednesday that a major pandemic, a dam breach on the Elbow River and civil disobedience were elevated on the emergency management hazard list.

“The last three years has highlighted the impacts of a major pandemic and the cascading impacts that one would have on all facets of our society,” said Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry.

“A dam breach on the Elbow River was upgraded to high risk in 2021 due to a reassessment of the economic impact of a potential worst-case scenario breach.”

While threat assessment of civil disobedience falls within the purview of the Calgary police, Chief Henry said it warranted elevated awareness.

“We do know that locally and internationally the frequency and impact of these types of events are increasing,” Henry said.

The Calgary police have also talked about the increase in the number of protests. They’ve mentioned the direct impact it has on changes to staffing levels and increased police presence.

Since the pandemic began, Calgary has seen dozen, if not hundreds of protests of varying scale.

Henry said civil disobedience isn’t a new risk for Calgary. She said it’s also important to know that civil disobedience and protests are interchangeable terms.

“Technically the definition that we use for civil disobedience is a form of non-violent protests that involves intentional violation of law and refusal to obey the demands, orders, or commands of a government authority,” she said.

Most of these are typically handled by police or bylaw service, Henry said. Though, if they escalate, wider coordination between different partners is possible.

Climate-related risks

A car drives through deep water along Rocky Ridge Blvd, as heavy rain from a storm that made its way through Calgary caused flooding along roadways in the northwest community of Rocky Ridge on Thursday, July 7, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Henry said the report showed that Calgary is a disaster hotspot in Canada.

There are 65 individual hazards and threats assessed by the emergency management team, with 16 that are labeled as high risk. Eight of those are climate-related.

“Many risks continue to increase as a result of climate change, increasing urbanization, our collective or our collective reliance on technology and the interconnectivity of our world as well as other factors,” Henry said.

There were 44 days that hit the climate disaster threshold.

“I hope it’s a blip above – I do not believe that it is,” said Chief Henry.

“I think what we are seeing is a climate events are getting more and more intense and getting more and more severe.”

Last year, Calgary dealt with severe winter weather in terms of deep cold spells and large-accumulation snowstorms. In the summer, there was a spell of roughly 80 millimetres of rain in two days that resulted in the emergency plan being activated.

The City built a berm across Memorial Drive and had water pumps stationed throughout the city as floodwaters rose.

Other climate risks include wildfire, drought, extreme heat and air quality risks.

Coun. Kourtney Penner, chair of the committee, said the report is a reflection of the challenges seen globally around climate change.

“I think it’s great that we’re highlighting it,” Penner said.

“I would encourage all Calgarians to take note of it and recognize that the work we are doing to mitigate climate change, both at the local level and at the global level, are worthwhile efforts.”

Calgary declared a climate emergency in December 2021.