Calgary emergency officials urge preparedness ahead of storm season

As Calgarians enter another storm season in May and June, the city’s emergency management officials are preparing for the unexpected and urging city residents to do the same.

At Calgary’s emergency management committee meeting on Tuesday, city council heard from several officials outlining risks and the city’s preparedness in the event of a severe weather event.

“If we can prevent the bad things from happening, or lessen their impact when they do happen, then we’ve succeeded, even if that means most Calgarians don’t see the work,” Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Sue Henry told the committee.

Emergency officials have assessed 14 potential high-risk disasters for the city heading into the spring and summer months, with an emphasis on severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and flooding.

According to officials, assessing the risk of disaster is aimed at guiding work for mitigation, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

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“All of these risks have impacted Calgary in the past, and we can almost guarantee they will occur again in the future,” Henry said.

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The presentation to committee came nearly a year after a devastating hailstorm swept through several of the city’s northeast communities, becoming one of the costliest storms in Canadian history. Insured costs were estimated at $1.3 billion from around 70,000 claims.

City committee members heard that the response to the storm included hauling away around 800,000 kilograms of debris during the cleanup.

But even now, there are still homes that need to be repaired and others that are undergoing repairs to roofing, windows and siding.

“It was a terrifying experience,” said Gagan Gill, whose home in Skyview Ranch is still being repaired. “We’ve never seen a hailstorm quite like that before.”

Emergency officials told the committee that severe weather events are becoming costlier and are happening more frequently, which has the city reminding Calgarians to be prepared in the event of a storm.

“We prepare for this every year. We’re getting better at it and I’d like to give Calgarians confidence that we are prepared to respond to a whole range of emergencies,” said Ward 8 city councillor and emergency management committee chair Evan Woolley.

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“But it’s very important for Calgarians to prepare themselves.”

Read more: First severe storm of the season brings hail, lightning to central Alberta

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has released its advice to Albertans to do whatever they can to protect their homes and vehicles in the spring and summer months.

That includes putting together an emergency supply kit, a plan to follow in the event of a severe storm, keeping an inventory of contents in your home and getting a clear understanding of your insurance policy.

“We do know that severe weather can happen any point in time, so we’re just reminding people to be prepared, take a few minutes to make that emergency plan and to know what to expect and what to do,” IBC western director of consumer and industry relations Rob de Pruis said.

While forecasting is heavily relied upon by emergency officials to track severe weather as it enters the Calgary region, emergency officials said other tools are needed as forecasts can’t always pinpoint where storms will peak in the city.

“Intense convective storm cells are difficult to geographically pinpoint,” city watersheld analyst Frank Frigo told the committee.

“An urban runoff peaks within minutes of rainfall, so almost any forecasting and reactive measures are extremely unlikely to be fully successful.”

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Frigo pointed to a storm that hit Calgary a decade ago which resulted in some of the city’s drainage systems receiving the amount of water that statistically had only a one per cent chance of happening, while other parts of the city didn’t see a single drop of rain.

The unpredictability of spring and summer storms has been what has driven the advice of preparedness coming from emergency management over the coming months.

“We are expecting there to be another hailstorm this year,” Gill said. “We just don’t know the extent of damage it will bring.”

–With files from Global News’ Adam Toy

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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