Terrorism ranks above flooding in city's emergency planning

In the list of top 10 emergencies the city plans for, terrorism ranks fourth. Flooding, which has cost local homeowners millions in recent years, ranks fifth. Hazardous materials and explosions is number one.
Hamilton uses that equation to assess what events constitute the greatest risks to the city. (Kevin Gamble/CBC)

Terrorism ranks higher than flooding, major fires and tornadoes as an emergency risk the city is planning for.

Flooding from major storms has cost Hamilton taxpayers and homeowners millions in the past decade and has forced the city's emergency plan to be enacted twice. The city has never had a terrorist attack.

Top 10 risks, in order, for Hamilton:

  1. Hazardous Materials and Explosions
  3. Energy Supply Emergencies
  5. Epidemics/Pandemics
  7. Terrorism
  9. Flooding
  11. Structure Fire (major)
  13. Tornadoes (windstorm and microburst)
  15. Transportation Accident - Motor Vehicle
  17. Ice Storms
  19. Earthquake

But the city's ranking of top 10 emergencies it plans for isn't just a judgment call: The city's emergency management office uses an actual mathematical equation to rate the risks to the city and its population.

That equation: Risk = (Probability + frequency) X  (sum of consequences)

Those consequences include fatality, injuries, critical infrastructure damage, property damage, environmental impact and social and economic impact.

Carla McCracken, the city’s coordinator of emergency management, said Hamilton has never had a terrorist attack, but given what’s happened around the world, it’s number four on the list of top ten identified risks to Hamilton.

“Because of the consequences, that’s where it landed,” she said.

Hazardous Materials and Explosions

Top of the list is hazardous materials emergencies and explosions. Flooding is fifth.

Ten years ago, the city of Hamilton established its Emergency Management Act according to provincial regulations. Since then, the city’s emergency management centre on Stone Church Road East has been activated 10 times.

When that happens, McCracken said response meetings happen from staff in the department related to the emergency (Public Works for a flooding emergency, for example), and continue up until it hits the most senior of city staff, including the mayor and emergency services chiefs and coordinators. Employees work from the emergency management centre to manage staff on the ground, and also make sure city services aren't compromised in areas outside the emergency zone, she said.

While weather related events don't rate highly on the list, six of the 10 times the emergency plan has been enacted are related to extreme weather.

McCracken said to come up with the city's top ten list, a committee, including city employees and representatives from police and fire services, school boards and community leaders, analyzed a list provided by the provincial government as a starting point and tossed out the ones that would almost never happen – like ‘space object crash,’ McCracken said.

“We then selected our model for analysis which basically gave us our formula,” she said. “Based on research we had done and the people around the table, that gave us our numbers.... it is very qualitative in nature and influenced by the people around the table.”

History of explosions

For example, the committee established the top priority, hazardous materials and explosions, based on history. And that history shows that kind of incident happens with some regularity in Hamilton:

McCracken lists off of just some examples of the explosion or incidents related to hazardous materials:  the 1997 four-day Plastimet fire, a chemical fire in Stoney Creek in 1986 and another chemical fire in Dundas in 1987 when 200 people had to be evacuated. In 2007, the Lottridge St. recycling service fire caused over 80 homes to be evacuated and a relief centre to be set up. On Aug. 25, 2009, the fire at Ancaster’s Archmill woodworking factory took 70 firefighters and 80 trucks to put out.

“The frequency of it happening again was a little bit higher than other ones and the probability of it happening again with our community profile was also large,” she said.

Flooding, for example, appears lower on the list because its not as probable and the city has experience dealing with it, she said.

Emergency plan activation:

  • Tornado - Nov. 5, 2005
  • Ambulance shortage  - May 17, 2006
  • Flooding  - Dec. 1, 2006
  • Lottridge St. Recycling Service fire - June 3, 2007
  • Hotz Environmental fire - Sept. 17, 2008
  • Flooding - July 26, 2009
  • H1N1 flu - April 27, 2009
  • Heat Response - July 19, 2011
  • Hurricane Sandy - Oct. 29, 2012
  • Heat Response  - July 17, 2013

But in the 10 times the city has activated its emergency, two of those times have been for floods: on Dec. 1, 2006 and July 26, 2009.

“We got a lot of rain in a short period of time and the ground just couldn’t absorb any more,” she said.

In the 2009 incident, 26 city facilities flooded, as well as parts of the Red Hill Valley Parkway and numerous neighborhoods in the Red Hill and Mountain areas, McCracken said.

“We had first responders going in, helping people out of their homes, going into basements shutting off utilities. Public Works was blocking off roads,” she said of the response.

McCracken also cited the 2009 H1N1 flu response as one of the city’s largest emergency response, but was more preventative, included lots of planning and research and was prolonged over several months.

The priority list is about three years old, and McCracken said it is revised ever five years and might look very different the next time around.


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