Lessons learned by property owners in the 2013 Alberta Floods

In June of 2013, Alberta experienced some of the worst flooding in the province’s history.  Affected areas were extensive and included regions along the Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Sheep, Little Bow, and South Saskatchewan rivers.  In Calgary, the flooding caused the evacuation of over 75,000 residents. This ranks as the largest evacuation order in the city’s history.  The Insurance Bureau of Canada called Alberta’s 2013 flooding “the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history,” with property damage in Calgary exceeding $1.7 billion, with another $500 million in lost economic output.

These statistics are ominous however in a disaster of this scale one needs to examine the personal and economic lessons that can be gleaned from an event of this magnitude.

The personal lesson for many Albertans was the demonstration of mankind’s altruistic traits. There have been many incredible and inspiring stories of thousands of people actively aiding friends, family, neighbours and even strangers. The impact has reinforced our community values and has further emphasized what it means to be a caring Albertan.

The economic lessons from this once in 100 year event need to be noted.

As the CEO of a large Calgary-based commercial real estate company, I was acutely aware of the dangers the flooding posed to property in the affected areas. While I was relieved that property damage was not even greater, I recognize that the damage could have been much worse. This more significant economic impact needs to be considered and potentially prevented in the case of a future disaster. Every business must develop a business continuity plan that provides redundant infrastructure for all critical functions. Disaster planning manuals must be created for every significant business addressing matters like employee safety and communication, IT infrastructure, accounting records, banking contacts, asset lists and fan-out strategies. Owners of commercial real estate must implement flood proofing measures and ensure that building operational systems are moved from lower parkade levels to a higher and dryer building elevation. This will take investment and commitment by landlords. I am confident that the benefits of this investment, while hopefully never utilized will provide security in the case that Mother Nature thinks differently.