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Halifax most improved Canadian city in flood preparedness over 5 year span

The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation scored Halifax a 'D' in 2015 and a 'B-' in 2019/2020
(stock photo)

According to a national report on flood preparedness among municipalities, Halifax had the most improved score across Canada over a five-year period.

The reportClimate Change and the Preparedness of 16 Major Canadian Cities to Limit Flood Risk — was conducted by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (ICCA) at the University of Waterloo.

In 2015, Halifax scored a “D” in flood preparedness; the city scored a “B-“ in the 2019/2020 report.

According to ICCA’s head Blair Feltmate, Halifax still has some room for improvement.

“What Halifax hasn’t done to date is actually look at the vulnerability of its electricity system to flood risk to determine where weaknesses may be,” Feltmate told NEWS 95.7’s The Rick Howe Show. “Or, indeed, maybe strengths are already there. But they haven’t just had the capacity to really do that depth of analysis.”

He also said the city only assesses telecommunications when necessary, it hasn’t reviewed how food supply services can operate in the event of flooding or how food storage can be maintained if electricity was diminished.

“These are the areas that when we interviewed the various people within the city (designated representatives of municipal governments), they said, ‘It’s not that we don’t think these things are important. We just haven’t had the capacity yet to go and examine them,’” Feltmate said.

But Halifax isn’t alone in its faults — it’s actually among the most prepared cities in Canada.

Out of the 16 cities assessed, Toronto, Regina and Edmonton achieved the highest scores in Canada with a “B+.” Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Calgary and Surrey, B.C. all came next with a “B-“ score.

Overall, the average score of the 16 cities is a “C+” — a score that remains unchanged since 2015.

To assess each city, Feltmate said the ICCA reviews and completes seven flood assessment categories:

  • Flood Risk Assessment: Ensuring the city’s flood risk maps are updated
  • Land Use Planning: Checking to see if the city builds on areas vulnerable to flooding
  • Urban Drainage Assessment: Making sure infrastructure already built on vulnerable areas have measures to direct flooding to safe locations
  • Residential Property Risk Mitigation: Informing homeowners of how to lower the chances of a flooded basement
  • Critical Infrastructure Risk Mitigation: Confirming the city has reviewed how flooding affects infrastructure such as electricity, telecommunication services and food supply
  • Public Health and Safety: Verifying hospitals have been reviewed to ensure they don’t flood
  • Emergency Management: Checking the ability of police, fire and emergency services to coordinate during a major weather event

Based on these categories, a city will receive a score ranging from an “E” to an “A.”

Feltmate said an “E” score means the city may be aware of the problem but isn’t doing anything about it. An “A” means the city has complete awareness of the problem and anticipates the problem may worsen in the future due to climate change.

In Halifax, the city reports top preparedness in three categories: Urban Drainage Assessment, Public Health and Safety and Emergency Management. Flood Risk Assessment and Land Use Planning also received strong scores.

Moreover, Halifax is among three other cities — Fredericton, Vancouver and Surrey — that have identified areas that are most at risk from riverine and coastal flooding.

It’s also one of eight cities to review pluvial flooding, such as sewer back-up.

However, the city lacks in Critical Infrastructure Risk Mitigation.

“Halifax hasn’t conducted a complete flood risk assessment on all of its critical electrical infrastructure, and moreover, the city lacks a formalized approach to address this area of potential vulnerability,” the report said.

On top of that, Halifax only conducts a risk assessment of its telecommunications networks when necessary. It also hasn’t reviewed the flood vulnerability of the city’s food supply systems.

One thing of concern to Halifax is hurricanes which usually affect the city’s electricity and water supply.

“There have been four to five Category 4 or 5 hurricanes come up the eastern seaboard in the last five years,” Feltmate said. “With climate change, we know for sure that the magnitude of hurricanes is going to increase going forward. Not necessarily the frequency, but the magnitude.”

In Canada, Feltmate said flooding is the number one cost realized due to climate change and extreme weather.

He said he can’t be certain the report would affect the rates every Canadian insurance company offers. However, he said the assessment categories in the report are the ones insurance companies take account of to determine their rates.

Last year, insurable losses in Canada reached $2.5 billion. This made 2020 the fourth-worst year for insurable claims since record-keeping began in 1983.

Chris Stoodley

About the Author: Chris Stoodley

Chris was born and raised in Halifax. After graduating from the journalism program at King's, he started as's weekend editor.
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