Natural Hazards Task Force

In response to a fatal landslide in 2005, the District of North Vancouver has embarked on an aggressive and widespread risk identification and reduction program. This program is not focused on one specific risk but attempts to determine what hazards are present in the District and to take measures to reduce risk to a standard of As Low as Reasonably Possible (ALRP). This program is primarily based on an economic cost-benefit model that distinguishes between new home construction and existing homes. This program has lead to significant changes in risk awareness and readiness and has been hailed internationally as a model of good governance.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The issue is both related and not related to climate change. It is not related in the fact that it was not created to address specifically climate-related issues, but rather all types of disaster risk. However, given that climate change exacerbates a number of the hazards in the region, in particular the landslide risk that spurred the development of the program, and that climate information is readily utilized to provide an updated hazard map, it is also extremely relevant to the topic of climate adaptation. While the program seeks to include up-to-date climate projections, it is, at its core, a cost-benefit analysis system. The program bases its determination of what constitutes As Low as Reasonably Possible Risk on an economic model that makes a distinction between new housing a retrofit housing, with the former accorded more stringent requirements than the latter.

Identifying Actions

The District established a Natural Hazards Task Force that studied natural hazard risk reduction planning from around the world; examples were drawn from Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Australia and more. The guide of taking risk to a standard of As Low as Reasonably Possible had been used in Canada before in the fields of medicine and other types of public safety planning, but not specifically for disaster risk reduction. The ALRP platform is explicitly economic and rooted in a cost-benefit analysis were a proponent of taking the more risky approach needs to demonstrate that mitigating the risk is a far more costly option than allowing it. The specific risk criteria used by the District were developed through research, public consultation, and prior regional knowledge. In 2005, the task force was given purview over the risks posed by landslide, the disaster that gave rise to the task force. In 2008, it was also tasked with analyzing vulnerability to wildfires, floods, and earthquakes.

Implementation

One of the major lessons learned through this process was that often the most cost-effective means of reducing risk is to prevent the development of new risks in the first place. This is reflected in the choice to differentiate between remodelling existing structures and building new ones; there is an entire order of magnitude of difference between the tolerable risk of death in the two categories, as tackling risk reduction at the onset of development is much cheaper than doing through the refurbishment of existing structures. The task force achieves its aims by producing risk-tolerance criteria that include clear goals for developers; it is then on the developer to decide what specific actions they will take to reduce the risk, so long as the outcome meets the stated criteria for risk reductions.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Reports of the success of the program as a whole are hard to come by, especially because the results are applied on a widely distributed and very small scale. However, the program has been widely praised a model for proper governance and good risk planning, having received the United Nations’ Sasakawa Reward for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2011. One lesson learned from this kind of analysis is the realization that it is far more economically efficient to prevent the risks associated with new development than it is to reduce the risks in existing buildings. Given that climate change will only serve to make existing vulnerabilities even more dire as time goes on, this process is incredibly useful for limiting the potential ballooning of municipal exposure to damage in the future.

Next Steps

The policy was scheduled for review in 2019 but no report has yet been issued. There are two expected outcomes of this review. The first, that the ALRP definitions be further refined by a technical review panel to ensure their accuracy and appropriateness in light of new knowledge and second that examples of best practices of this program be collated and provided to all interested parties.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The issue is both related and not related to climate change. It is not related in the fact that it was not created to address specifically climate-related issues, but rather all types of disaster risk. However, given that climate change exacerbates a number of the hazards in the region, in particular the landslide risk that spurred the development of the program, and that climate information is readily utilized to provide an updated hazard map, it is also extremely relevant to the topic of climate adaptation. While the program seeks to include up-to-date climate projections, it is, at its core, a cost-benefit analysis system. The program bases its determination of what constitutes As Low as Reasonably Possible Risk on an economic model that makes a distinction between new housing a retrofit housing, with the former accorded more stringent requirements than the latter.

Identifying Actions

The District established a Natural Hazards Task Force that studied natural hazard risk reduction planning from around the world; examples were drawn from Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Australia and more. The guide of taking risk to a standard of As Low as Reasonably Possible had been used in Canada before in the fields of medicine and other types of public safety planning, but not specifically for disaster risk reduction. The ALRP platform is explicitly economic and rooted in a cost-benefit analysis were a proponent of taking the more risky approach needs to demonstrate that mitigating the risk is a far more costly option than allowing it. The specific risk criteria used by the District were developed through research, public consultation, and prior regional knowledge. In 2005, the task force was given purview over the risks posed by landslide, the disaster that gave rise to the task force. In 2008, it was also tasked with analyzing vulnerability to wildfires, floods, and earthquakes.

Implementation

One of the major lessons learned through this process was that often the most cost-effective means of reducing risk is to prevent the development of new risks in the first place. This is reflected in the choice to differentiate between remodelling existing structures and building new ones; there is an entire order of magnitude of difference between the tolerable risk of death in the two categories, as tackling risk reduction at the onset of development is much cheaper than doing through the refurbishment of existing structures. The task force achieves its aims by producing risk-tolerance criteria that include clear goals for developers; it is then on the developer to decide what specific actions they will take to reduce the risk, so long as the outcome meets the stated criteria for risk reductions.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Reports of the success of the program as a whole are hard to come by, especially because the results are applied on a widely distributed and very small scale. However, the program has been widely praised a model for proper governance and good risk planning, having received the United Nations’ Sasakawa Reward for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2011. One lesson learned from this kind of analysis is the realization that it is far more economically efficient to prevent the risks associated with new development than it is to reduce the risks in existing buildings. Given that climate change will only serve to make existing vulnerabilities even more dire as time goes on, this process is incredibly useful for limiting the potential ballooning of municipal exposure to damage in the future.

Next Steps

The policy was scheduled for review in 2019 but no report has yet been issued. There are two expected outcomes of this review. The first, that the ALRP definitions be further refined by a technical review panel to ensure their accuracy and appropriateness in light of new knowledge and second that examples of best practices of this program be collated and provided to all interested parties.

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