After 9-11, security mitigation and preparedness was high on the list of most critical infrastructure owners, and the water sector was no exception. Here in Canada, the move had already begun to develop a national critical infrastructure framework and national database that water utilities, both public and private, could use to access and share information related to security and emergency management.

Although very debilitating, intentional impacts from acts of violence or terrorism are not the only hazards that can negatively impact the production and distribution of a water supply. As physical security protection and site safety processes were improving, impacts from identified hazards such as water contamination, infectious disease, and catastrophic infrastructure failure were additional areas that needed attention. Luckily, taking an “all-hazards” approach allows for the use of processes, procedures, and response plans to be utilized across any organization regardless of the mechanism, as the impact is invariably the same.

Like most major Canadian cities, Calgary is situated near a waterway, both to its benefit and demise as the city’s downtown core is at the confluence of two separate rivers; the Bow and Elbow.

From a redundancy perspective, Calgary couldn’t have been situated any better as each river has its own source and watershed ensuring (for the most part) that there should always be at least one available water source for the population. Alternatively, the fact is that either river could flood during any given year, or worse yet, they could both flood at the same time.

Understanding potential impacts from technological, intentional, or natural hazards supported the development of holistic response and recovery planning, including a water-specific tactical operations centre known as the the H2OC.

This facility allowed the members of the management team a space to gather when certain triggers or parameters were met that had been previously defined through a Threat, Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA). Water emergency management representatives would gather due to water quality, security, system, or flooding emergencies to monitor and support responders, coordinate communications, and prioritize long and short-term objectives.

In a span of less than 18 months, from January 2004 to June 2005, the water sector in Calgary would experience a loss of a major feedermain impacting more than 100,000 residents, and a 200-year flood that would cause evacuations of several thousand people. The newly formed Water Emergency Response Teams and the H2OC would be turning their training into reality.

The feedermain failure was a stark reminder to all regarding the interdependencies of critical infrastructure, as transportation routes were closed, hospitals were implementing evacuation procedures, and emergency service responders was delayed. In addition, water quality and communication response plans were put to the test. The emergency management team was put through the processes and procedures of how to function within an emergency operations centre environment, and improvements were made to the plans along the way. All of this contributed to the success of the response to the 2005 “Flood of the Century.” This flood had major impacts on water quality and production, and laid the groundwork for mitigation and preparedness for the next time a flood might occur.

The success of the response and recovery procedures during operations of the H2OC supported further creation of additional Tactical Operations Centres throughout the corporation. Police, Fire, Water and Transportation began initiating the process of developing emergency and continuity programs within their own business unit. This post 2005 flood era provided an opportunity to research and develop a corporate model that would support the all-hazards approach and lessons learned from H2OC activations.

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