Letter: Insurance companies preparing municipalities for climate change

Dear Editor,

“The number and cost of extreme weather events (extreme storms, floods, heat waves, droughts, etc.) is rising. New thresholds, regulations, technologies and infrastructure codes and standards need to be developed now to improve the safety of Canadians.” – Environment Canada.

Across Canada, heavy rainfall is increasing. On average, this country is now getting 20 more days of rain compared with the 1950s (Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction 2012).

And the climate is warming, generating more extreme rainfalls such as those that hit Alberta and Toronto last year. Those downpours resulted in two deaths, flooded basements with brown water, made roads impassable, partially filled the Saddledome, and brought the residents of two major cities a ton of misery.

Since 1950, B.C. has witnessed a 20-30 per cent increase in rainfall in its coastal areas. The forecast: weather will continue to wreak havoc on B.C. and Canada.

Changing climate is half of that problem. The other half is weak infrastructure.  

Infrastructure failure has been responsible for the majority of insured losses following rainstorms. Sanitary and stormwater pipes have been aging underground to the point where the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has pegged the country’s deficit in this area at $55 billion. That is a lot of money that our three levels of government don’t have.

In light of these clear trends, we have choices:  wait to see what happens, hope something bad doesn’t happen, or use the best science/decision-making to make informed decisions on how to prevent a bad thing from happening. The latter is the preferred option, but it takes leadership.

Such leadership was recently shown by Coquitlam, Hamilton, ON, and Fredericton, NB, when they simultaneously launched a pilot of a municipal risk assessment tool (MRAT) developed by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) with its municipal partners. The tool is designed to help prevent an epidemic of wet basements when the hard rains fall in Canada’s growing communities.

MRAT is a sophisticated new web-based information tool, a Canadian and global first in adaptation technology. Developed with funding from Natural Resources Canada and member insurers of IBC, it uses information about municipal infrastructure, current climate, future climate predictions, and insurance claims, to give city engineers a new and revealing picture of where the pipes underground are weakest.

Infrastructure data collected by cities, such as how old the sewers are, maintenance programs in place, proximity to bodies of water and slope of the land is combined with the insurance claims history for each neighbourhood. All that data is combined with reliable weather predictors that forecast expected rainfall in the next seven to 37 years.

After the data is analyzed, MRAT calculates the likelihood of failure of the affected pipes. It does so for the current year, and it also plots level of vulnerability out for 2020 and for 2050. From the information input, maps are printed that show where the most urgent repair areas are.

Municipal leaders such as those in Coquitlam will use MRAT to prioritize repairs, adjust service levels, and, importantly, make a scientific case for their infrastructure requests to federal and provincial decision-makers.

We believe other municipalities are ready to pilot MRAT, and other launches of the tool will be rolled out in a systematic way in the years ahead.

But for now, adopting MRAT is a decision by Coquitlam’s civic leaders that says, “Let’s use the best technology, let’s take advantage of an innovative Canadian tool, let’s bet on Canadian know-how.”

In a real sense, Coquitlam’s participation in MRAT is no surprise. The city has already taken measures to prepare for significant rainfall and flooding.

We know that Coquitlam’s adoption of this technology will help add to the city’s protection of residents. That is also the guiding principle for the insurers who have funded its development. They have done so to manage the risks to Canadians.

The tool is only one solution, of course. But we believe it will show, once again, that Canadian innovation for adaptation is alive and well, and that there is something that we can do, together, with Canadian innovation, about the worsening weather.

Bill Adams, Insurance Bureau of Canada

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