Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction

Toronto, Canada

Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction

Toronto, Canada
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TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - April 11, 2017) - According to a final report formally released today by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, homes that survived in Fort McMurray in otherwise decimated neighbourhoods were those more resistant to ignition by embers. This was largely due to actions and decisions taken by homeowners who had adopted FireSmart® mitigation measures to a greater degree than the owners of adjacent homes who did not take such actions. In 'Why some homes survived: Learning from the Fort McMurray wildland/urban interface disaster', researcher/author Alan Westhaver sought to answer the question: 'Why did some homes survive this wildland/urban interface fire with little or no damage, while others were vulnerable to ignition and destroyed?' The May 2016 Fort McMurray wildland/urban interface fire disaster provided an unprecedented opportunity to learn firsthand about the survival and ignition of homes located in the interface, where communities and built assets abut forested lands. After evaluating the fire environment and clearances between homes and the forest edge, Westhaver discounted direct contact from flames or radiant heat of the forest fire as being significant sources of home ignition at Fort McMurray. Instead, he concluded that wind-driven embers were the most probable cause for the majority of early home ignitions in those areas where the fire made its transition from forest into urban neighbourhoods. Overall, observations made during this investigation confirm that the Fort McMurray disaster followed a well-recognized pattern known as the 'wildland/urban interface disaster sequence'. This progression can only be broken, and disaster avoided, by substantially increasing the proportion of homes that are resistant to ignition -- especially by embers. "Home survival in these circumstances is not random, nor is it a function of luck," says Westhaver. "Whether a home is destroyed by an interface wildfire or not greatly depends on conditions immediately around the structure, the area for which homeowners are responsible." "This research is not about placing blame," says Westhaver. "It is about better understanding the sequence of events that lead to wildland/urban interface fire losses and communicating findings to important stakeholders -- like homeowners and other private property owners -- to prevent repeats of such disasters in the same, and other communities in the Canadian interface." Westhaver's findings closely align with those from similar case studies and research conducted elsewhere, particularly in the United States and Australia. The final report containing these and other conclusions and results can be downloaded for free in PDF format at Established in 1998 by Canada's property and casualty insurers, ICLR is an independent, not-for-profit research institute based in Toronto and at Western University in London, Canada. ICLR is a centre of excellence for disaster loss prevention research and education. ICLR's research staff is internationally recognized for pioneering work in a number of fields including wind and seismic engineering, atmospheric sciences, water resources engineering and economics. Multi-disciplined research is a foundation for ICLR's work to build communities more resilient to disasters.

Simonovic S.P.,University of Western Ontario | Schardong A.,University of Western Ontario | Sandink D.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management | Year: 2017

Climate change is expected to alter the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events, affecting the rainfall intensity-durationfrequency (IDF) curve information used in the design, maintenance, and operation of water infrastructure in Canada. Presented in this study are analyses of precipitation data from 567 Environment Canada hydro-meteorological stations using the web-based IDF_CC tool, which applies a novel equidistance quantile-matching downscaling method to generate future IDF curve information. Results for the year 2100 based on The Second Generation Canadian Earth System Model (CanESM2) and a multimodel ensemble median of 24 global climate models (GCMs) were generated. A natural neighbor spatial interpolation method was used to generate results for ungauged locations. One in 5-year, 2-h and one in 100-year, 24-h precipitation events were explored. Results based on CanESM2 indicated a reduction in extreme precipitation in central regions of Canada under specific analyses and increases in other regions. Relative to the multimodel ensemble median approach, the CanESM2 results suggested more spatial variability in change of IDFs, and the ensemble median generated generally lower values than CanESM2. By using the median value that lowers the importance of extreme outputs, the ensemble median approach obscured uncertainty associated with GCM outputs. While the IDF_CC tool helps fill an important gap related to accessing local climate change information, it is important to consider uncertainty in GCM outputs when making climate change adaptation decisions. © 2016 American Society of Civil Engineers.

News Article | December 23, 2015

Kirsty Duncan, the medical geographer who last month became Canada’s first Minister of Science, has a big mandate: to ensure that scientific considerations again figure into public-policy decisions. Duncan, appointed by newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, inherits a research community bruised by years of cuts to science programmes and research jobs under former prime minister Stephen Harper. Harper’s government also famously muzzled government researchers. But change is in the air. On 5 November, Trudeau’s government reinstated the mandatory long-form census, to cheers from social scientists, and on 6 November, it decreed that federal scientists could again speak freely to the media and to the public. Yet these splashy announcements came not from Duncan, but from Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Duncan has harder tasks ahead, says Paul Dufour, a science-policy analyst at the University of Ottawa. She has been asked to shoulder the burden of shoring up Canada’s science enterprise; this includes steps such as reforming the country’s weakened environmental-assessment process and making basic research a higher funding priority. But it is not clear whether she will have the power to make such changes. Canada’s science ministers have historically operated with minimal budgets, and sometimes as junior ministers. Duncan’s clout will not be put to the test until Trudeau releases his first federal budget in February. “She’s a great person for the job, but is it window dressing?” says Kennedy Stewart, who tracks science issues for the New Democratic Party, the left-wing opposition to Duncan and Trudeau’s middle-left Liberal party. “The budget will tell.” In Canada, where ministers are chosen from among elected members of parliament, it is rare to see higher degrees in fields other than law or medicine. Trudeau’s cabinet is a notable exception: Duncan, who earned a PhD in geography in 1992 at the University of Edinburgh, UK, is one of a small group of ministers with doctoral degrees in economics, sociology or engineering. Duncan is perhaps best known for leading an expedition to Norway in 1998, prompted by her interest in pandemics. Then at Canada’s University of Windsor, she suspected that traces of the deadly 1918 Spanish flu virus might be preserved in the bodies of victims who were buried in permafrost. Although the expedition did not yield any flu samples, team member Robert Webster, a pandemic virologist at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, remains impressed by Duncan’s organizational acumen. “She was smart enough to contact the leaders in the field,” he says. “She got the heavies. She raised the funds.” Economist Paul Kovacs, who worked with Duncan on a chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2001 report, makes a similar assessment. Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, describes her as dedicated, determined and skilled at probing the scientific literature to work out “what was really new and what you could do about it”. But Duncan’s political career, which began in 2008, has not been without controversy. Between 2012 and 2014 she introduced seven pieces of legislation, all related to neurological health. Two bills called for clinical trials of controversial treatments for multiple sclerosis; these were based on the work of Paolo Zamboni, an Italian physician who suggested that a circulatory condition called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency was linked to the neurological disorder. Duncan’s bills came after several studies failed to find evidence for Zamboni’s claims, and concluded that the therapy was too expensive and risky for further trials. But Duncan defends the legislation, saying that she wanted to encourage research on the brain. “In science we ask the questions. I asked a question: would the government look at the science?” she says. In the long term, Duncan will work to improve Canada’s science capacity — in part by establishing high-profile professorships in sustainable technologies. According to the United Nations, the country is one of only a few advanced economies whose total spending on research and development has declined relative to its gross domestic product. Observers are keen to see what Duncan can achieve. “She’s certainly got her hands full with limited resources,” Dufour says. For now, Duncan is focused on establishing the post of chief science officer, to replace the national science adviser role that Harper eliminated in 2008. Physicist Ted Hsu, the Liberal party’s former science spokesperson, says that this will take some thought. “She needs to set up something that’s so good, it will survive a change of government in future.” Duncan is happy to go slowly to work out the best system. “We want to get this right,” she says.

Simonovic S.P.,University of Western Ontario | Schardong A.,University of Western Ontario | Sandink D.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction | Srivastav R.,University of Western Ontario
Environmental Modelling and Software | Year: 2016

Intensity Duration Frequency (IDF) curves are among the most common tools used in water resources management. They are derived from historical rainfall records under the assumption of stationarity. Change of climatic conditions makes the use of historical data for development of IDFs for the future unjustifiable. The IDF_CC, a web based tool, is designed, developed and implemented to allow local water professionals to quickly develop estimates related to the impact of climate change on IDF curves for almost any local rain monitoring station in Canada. The primary objective of the presented work was to standardize the IDF update process and make the results of current research on climate change impacts on IDF curves accessible to everyone. The tool is developed in the form of a decision support system (DSS) and represents an important step in increasing the capacity of Canadian water professionals to respond to the impacts of climate change. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd.

Sandink D.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction | Simonovic S.P.,University of Western Ontario | Schardong A.,University of Western Ontario | Srivastav R.,University of Western Ontario
Environmental Modelling and Software | Year: 2016

Stakeholder involvement can serve to increase the quality of decision support systems (DSSs) and increase the perceived legitimacy of DSS outputs. Involving those who are ultimately affected by the outputs of DSSs in system design and development also reflects democratic principles. Importantly, stakeholder involvement can help ensure that the outputs of DSSs are used in decision-making processes. However, DSSs often fail due to poor engagement of stakeholder and end-user communities in the development and design of systems. The stakeholder engagement process applied in the development of the Computerized Tool for the Development of Intensity Duration Frequency Curves under Climate Change described here followed many of the tenants of best practices identified in the literature. While the engagement strategy was generally considered successful, over- and under-representation of some stakeholder groups and long term funding issues were weaknesses in the engagement process. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd

Simmons K.M.,Austin College | Kovacs P.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction | Kopp G.A.,University of Western Ontario
Weather, Climate, and Society | Year: 2015

In April 2014, the city of Moore, Oklahoma, adopted enhanced building codes designed for wind-resistant construction. This action came after Moore suffered three violent tornadoes in 14 yr. Insured loss data and a rigorous approach to estimating how much future damage can be mitigated is used to conduct a benefit-cost analysis of the Moore standards applied to the entire state of Oklahoma. The results show that the new codes easily pass the benefit-cost test for the state of Oklahoma by a factor of 3 to 1. Additionally, a sensitivity analysis is conducted on each of the five input variables to identify the threshold where each variable causes the benefit-cost test to fail. Variables include the estimate of future losses, percent of damage that can be reduced, added cost, residential share of overall losses, and the discount rate. © 2015 American Meteorological Society.

Sandink D.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction | Kovacs P.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction | Oulahen G.,University of Western Ontario | Shrubsole D.,University of Western Ontario
Canadian Water Resources Journal | Year: 2015

Flood-affected households in Canada rely on a complex arrangement of public disaster assistance and partial private insurance coverage for flood recovery. Recently, calls have been made for a review of the role of private insurance in residential flood losses; however, there are many challenges associated with the introduction of private flood insurance. Some ways to increase the viability of flood insurance include providing flood coverage for a variety of flood types, limiting coverage for very high-risk households and implementing risk-based coverage. To be effective, flood insurance will further require households, insurers and governments to participate in the reduction of flood risk. Governments and insurers should work toward a national, consistent approach to flood hazard assessment that includes assessment of a variety of flood types that affect households and supports both non-structural flood risk reduction and insurance pricing. Governments and insurers should further work to reduce the number of very high-risk households and improve the quality and accessibility of flood loss data. Furthermore, households will have to become better informed of the specifics of insurance coverage and bear a portion of flood losses through risk-based insurance pricing and conditions. © 2015 Canadian Water Resources Association

McGillivray G.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences | Year: 2015

Though many seem to view climate change-related deviations in the Arctic as nothing more than as a distant early warning for the ‘rest of us’, new research indicates that loss of Arctic sea ice could be affecting the jet stream in such a way as to be impacting weather in the northern hemisphere. Uncharacteristically long blocking patterns being linked to the weakening circulation of upper atmospheric winds in the northern hemisphere are being connected not only to the bitter North American winter of 2013/2014 and to the uncommonly cool summer of 2014, but also to extreme weather events, many of them involving copious amounts of precipitation. Hence, changes in the cryosphere a world away, once regarded as largely isolated and innocuous, now appear to be affecting the lives—and livelihoods—of those living in the urban northern hemisphere. © 2015, AESS.

Sandink D.,Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
Journal of Flood Risk Management | Year: 2016

Urban flooding associated with extreme precipitation is a significant cause of disaster damages for municipalities, homeowners and insurers in Canada. Several approaches have been applied to reduce urban flood risk at the municipal and homeowner scales, including addressing inflow/infiltration in wastewater systems, accommodating extreme stormwater flows in subdivision design and protecting individual homes from flooding. Insurers have also engaged in managing urban flood risk through interactions with individual policyholders and initiatives aimed at better understanding urban flood risk and risk mitigation options. Requiring mitigation measures at the time of the construction of homes, improving insurance data, application of incentives for appropriate private side retrofits, and improved collaboration between insurers and municipalities for identification of urban flood risk areas provide additional opportunities for urban flood risk reduction. Further, senior levels of governments should support inflow/infiltration reduction and application of climate change information to improve the planning and design of municipal infrastructure. © 2015 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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