Five steps to an emergency response plan

During Alberta’s severe weather this past summer, this arena in Medicine Hat was flooded. Desiccant dryers were used while restoring the facility. Photo courtesy Jamie Mackie, FirstOnSite Restoration
During Alberta’s severe weather this past summer, this arena in Medicine Hat was flooded. Desiccant dryers were used while restoring the facility. Photo courtesy Jamie Mackie, FirstOnSite Restoration

By John Stephenson
This year, Canadians have seen some severe weather. Currently, Southern Alberta is still rebuilding after one of the worst floods in the province’s history. High River, Canmore, and Calgary saw more than 100 mm (4 in.) of rain in less than 48 hours. A total of 32 states of emergency were declared, and communities were placed under evacuation orders. Damage included the Scotiabank Saddledome being submerged, Highway 1 was washed away, and entire towns were cut off by rising waters, along with mudslides.

Not even two weeks later, Toronto was battered by a summer storm. Hurricane Hazel’s 1954 single-day rainfall record was broken as the city tried to cope with what would end up being its costliest storm. Currently, private insurance claims have surpassed $850 million, with another $60 million in damage to the city—this highlights Toronto’s infrastructure inadequacies in terms of stormwater management.

Climate change has made these catastrophic events more common and devastating—not an encouraging combination. Though governments have admitted they need to update disaster mitigation plans to address urban flooding, it could be quite some time before any real action is taken.

Buildings with emergency response plans fared much better in these disasters than those without. Every project team or building owner should take a look at their projects and anticipate where the risks lay before, during, and after construction takes place, and figure out what to do when disaster strikes. Five steps can help one get started on a comprehensive emergency response plan.

1. Conduct a property risk assessment covering all internal and external risks including environmental, topographical, and residing property risks.
This can include entry points for water, drainage paths, and maintenance of sump pumps. Additionally, residing property risks refers to the risks neighbours bring to surrounding properties. Construction and project managers should be aware of all risks during every construction phase.

2. Create emergency response procedures based on the risk assessment for various catastrophes such as flooding, fire, and wind damage or power failure.
This should include an emergency check list for each risk. Physical risk assessments are based on potential emergency situations that negatively impact a construction or job site. These risks can be based on location, environment (i.e. if the site is located on a flood plain or there is a gas plant nearby), or even faulty construction. Every site has different risks and vulnerabilities; it is important to determine the potential of something going wrong.

3. Partner with an emergency restoration company, and consider signing on to a service agreement for emergency and disaster situations providing response 24-7.
The emergency restoration company should have national response capabilities, and be able to provide equipment and manpower on a large scale. Additionally, the company must have the required provincial and federal certifications to enter potentially dangerous situations in a safe manner on the property owner’s or construction company’s behalf.

4. Create an overall emergency response plan with assessment information.
All emergency support numbers should be included when creating the plan; they need to be accessible 24-7 regardless of location.

5. Test the plan.
Doing a mock disaster recovery exercise, or even a desktop scenario exercise, can be invaluable. If possible, one should partner with a city or municipality exercise. The plan should be reviewed during all phases of construction and revised based on exercise results.

John Stephenson is vice-president, property management services with FirstOnSite Restoration. He has been a guest speaker at the World Conference on Disaster Management, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), and the Disaster Recovery Information Exchange. Stephenson can be reached at

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