Building Climate Resilience Across Infrastructure Ontario’s Managed Assets

In 2019, Infrastructure Ontario (IO) established a Climate Resilience Program to ensure vital services and infrastructure, such as hospitals, can better withstand and remain operational during extreme weather events. This supported several objectives from the 2018 Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, which emphasizes the importance of preparing for the costs and impacts of climate change, including ensuring public infrastructure is more resilient to extreme weather. In particular, flooding can pose a threat to the safety and sustainability of these assets, leading to the potential for physical or environmental damages, the partial or complete loss of services, health and safety risks, and financial and reputational impacts. IO, a provincial crown agency, developed a climate resilience program consisting of a targeted set of measures to be implemented within existing IO business processes. These measures include: climate risk assessments to inform output specifications for new construction projects, a portfolio-level flood risk assessment project, measures to mitigate flooding in high risk buildings, a resilience checklist for base building assessments, developing climate resilience analytics, and fostering awareness of resilience across multiple IO divisions and ministries with capital responsiblities.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Infrastructure Ontario (IO) is a Crown agency of the Province of Ontario that supports the Ontario government’s initiatives to modernize and maximize the value of public infrastructure and real estate. IO acts as procurement and commercial lead for all major public infrastructure projects in the province and manages the government real estate portfolio through asset planning, facilities contract management, and real estate advisory services. In 2019, in partnership with the Ontario Climate Consortium, IO undertook a Provincial Flood Resilience Assessment study and developed relative flood risk rankings for a subset of core assets that underpin Ontario’s resilience as a province, including ministry office buildings, detention facilities, courthouses, police detachments, and laboratories. Numerous sources of data were used to inform a methodology wherein risk = hazards x vulnerabiliites / adaptive capacity.

Along with identifying hazards (proximity to waterbodies or floodplain, overland flow potential), the vulnerability of assets was assessed (occupancy, facility age and condition, presence of basements, social or cultural value, proximity to important environmental areas), and the adaptive capacity of each facility to cope with extreme weather events (availability of backup power, presence of weeping tiles, and sump pumps & backwater valves, Low Impact Development measures, emergency management plans). Identifying existing adaptive capacity was a unique aspect of this methodology and study that responded to IO’s objective to focus not just on identifying existing risk but also on identifying existing resilience.

For its work on new infrastructure construction projects, IO is employing site-level climate risk assessments to inform climate adapted design measures. In so doing, it is developing a dataset of Ontario-based climate risks and adaptation measures that can be leveraged on future projects and in ongoing asset management programs. IO also participates in several other asset management working groups and uses data from Climate Atlas and climatedata.ca, as well as ISO guidelines and Climate Lens guidance from Infrastructure Canada, to further identify risk and resilience measures.

To enact climate resilience it is key to take some first steps and learn from them. In IO’s case their Flood Resilience Assessment study, which brought to bear the strong research-informed analysis capacity of the Ontario Climate Consortium, was the first step that yielded valuable insights on what was known and not known about the sources of flood risk within the Provincial portfolio, this led to a strategy to further develop work around those insights, which led to a climate resilience program of work at IO embedded in day-to-day practices, which greatly facilitates its uptake amongst staff. By taking these first steps and learning and collaborating as they go IO is quickly emerging as a leader in infrastructure climate resilience.

Identifying Actions

The Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan outlined several action items specific to public assets: 1) undertake a provincial impact assessment to identify where and how climate change is likely to impact Ontario’s communities; and 2) build resilience in the province’s critical infrastructure so that vital services and infrastructure, such as hospitals, can better withstand and remain operational during extreme weather events. The Provincial Flood Resilience Assessment study identified some flood risk reduction strategies applicable to multiple buildings across the portfolio, such as reducing impervious cover and ensuring stormwater sump-pumps are on back-up power systems. Other flood risk reduction strategies can be directed to more specific assets, including: relocating the asset away from the flood plain where feasible; implementing flood protection measures where relocation is not feasible; leveraging Environment Canada extreme weather alerts into automated asset-specific warning systems; drawing on Conservation Authority data, guidelines and tools for stormwater management; and reviewing /updating emergency management plans, and operations and maintenance plans to account for the risk of flooding. An Excel-based flood resilience tool was developed using over 40 indicators of risk to assess the current relative flood risk level for all 130 assets. Along with identifying actions for existing buildings, IO also identified the need to ensure resilience in new builds.

Implementation

IO developed its own Infrastructure Climate Resilience Program out of an initial strategy to leverage positive change within key lines of business including major project delivery and capital planning and asset management for the real estate portfolio.

The strategy consists of a targeted set of resilience measures to be implemented within existing IO infrastructure programs. These measures include: climate risk assessments to inform output specifications for new construction projects, a portfolio-level flood risk assessment project, resilience audits to investigate buildings identifed as having a higher flood or other climate risk profile to delve deeper into asset-specific causes of risk and identify actions to help mitigate risk, a resilience checklist integrated into ongoing base building assessments, developing climate resilience portfolio analytics, and fostering awareness of resilience across multiple IO divisions and ministries with capital responsiblities.

Through its service provider CBRE, IO also developed a weather alert notification system, which notifies facility managers at IO assets across Ontario of severe weather and provides a set of measures that can be used to prepare for the weather event. IO’s climate resilience work comes out of the IO Energy Services team that works to achieve energy efficiency, sustainability, and climate resilience across infrastructure assets. The grouping of these services in one team speaks to their interelated nature.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

IO aims to embed resilience into existing work processes by mainstreaming actions into existing programs and daily business practices. Thus far, four resilience audits have been undertaken and recommendations from the audits are integrated into capital planning data at the building system level. Furthermore, IO recognizes the importance of improving the data collection processes to better inform resilience related decisions. They are partnering with other divisions and ministries to increase data resources and project capacity and are basing resilience measures on both sector best practices and the field experience of asset management professionals. Through this work, IO staff and IO service providers are gathering the information and tools they need to take iterative site-specific actions towards resilience. IO is also prioritizing fostering awareness to ensure buy-in across divisions and with external contractors and using both economic and climate data to make the case for designing assets for future weather and standards rather than historic weather.

Next Steps

IO’s climate resilience work came out of the IO Energy Services team and an initial flood risk study. Through interdisciplinary collaboration it has become an infrastructure program to address climate change impacts on provincial public infrastructure. Continuous engagement with staff and stakeholders will be important to validate various ongoing assessment results, and build the capacity to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Infrastructure is shaped by asset management practices, which will increasingly need to move from an asset level towards a systems approach that analyzes infrastructure system interdependencies (e.g., water, roads, and electricity), and the impacts of multiple climate hazards that may occur concurrently, cascadingly, and/or cumulatively over time (e.g., extreme heat, ice storms, and tornadoes).

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