Nov. 30, 2021

B.C. floods are wake-up call to adapt infrastructure to meet realities of climate change: UCalgary professor

Julie Drolet, co-chair of Social Work and Disaster Network, calls for all levels of government to adopt resiliency model of disaster management
Pick-up truck half submerged in flood water
keeperofthezoo/Deposit Photos

The lesson to be taken from the catastrophic flooding in British Columba is that existing infrastructure needs to be adapted to withstand the realities of climate change post-haste, says Dr. Julie Drolet, PhD.

Julie Drolet

Julie Drolet

Courtesy Julie Drolet

“I think this is really a wake-up call,” says Drolet, a professor in the Faculty of Social Work and co-chair of the recently launched Social Work and Disaster (SWAD) Network. “We need to make these investments so that we can mitigate these kinds of disasters in the future.”

As our own relatively recent history attests, and with many Alberta communities built on flood plains, Drolet says this province ought to take heed of the events in the Fraser Valley.

We need to think about flood mitigation. Often people who are looking to invest in homes or in neighbourhoods don't have information about the history of what's taken place in these sites.

“We really need to map out where these floodplains areas are and really think about what needs to happen at that local level, so that these kinds of incidences don't take place,” she says.

Drolet advocates for an approach that fosters resiliency, which in disaster management context denotes the ability of communities to absorb shock and to learn and adapt from previous disaster events. She says we should be looking to models such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Management, which was adopted by the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015. The plan presents seven goals and four action priorities, including "investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience." 

Disaster preparedness investment needed

Disaster events are traumatic and challenging for individuals, families and communities, and there is a need to invest in disaster preparedness.

“I think it is important that we realize that the impact of disaster events is something that we need to plan for in the long term — thinking about the stresses and the hardships, how to promote individual and community well-being, and what it's going to mean to build back with better resilience,” she says. “We still have a long way to go when it comes to this in Western Canada.”

As for the crisis at hand, with recovery efforts in B.C. complicated by yet more rain and the threat of further flooding, Drolet says relief workers and private citizens alike are sure to be “up to their eyeballs” in dealing with that aftermath, and that Alberta social workers could be called upon to assist with psychosocial supports.

When asked if she would like to see a national version of the Social Work and Disaster Network developed, Drolet says that already seems to be happening with both out-of-province and international members signing on to SWAD.

“We're looking to continue to build our capacity in the social work profession to respond, provide supports, build connections and share experiences.,” she says. “We’re taking initiatives now in anticipation that a year from now, as recovery is ongoing, that there will be requests from communities asking for this kind of support.”