Brampton Lighthouse Project: Supporting vulnerable populations during extreme weather events

In recent years, the City of Brampton has experienced multiple extreme weather events (i.e., extreme heat and rainfall, flooding, and ice storms) that triggered the development of this community-based adaptation project, which is a citywide initiative aiming to involve local faith-based organizations (FBO) in climate change adaptation. This initiative, undertaken as part of ICLEI’s Collaborative Implementation Group project, is an extension of an existing FBO network called the Lighthouse Program, which focuses on sharing emergency preparedness knowledge through religious networks. The purpose of this program is to assist vulnerable populations during emergencies and improve the City’s ability to respond to extreme weather events. The project included a study identifying and mapping vulnerable populations and faith-based centers around the City, forming relationships with leaders from FBO’s around the City, and hosting training workshops for FBO volunteers from different religious communities. There were several positive outcomes associated with this project, mostly stemming from its innovativeness and inclusiveness across the City of Brampton.

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Understanding and Assessing Impacts

This case study addresses the climate impacts risks and vulnerabilities related to extreme weather events, including increasing experiences of extreme heat days, multiple instances of extreme rainfall and flooding, and significant impacts from the ice storm that hit southern Ontario in 2013. The ice storm left 20,000 homes without power, and many bus routes inaccessible for days. Brampton is also situated in one of Canada’s tornado pathways. When investigating the City’s response to these events, a significant gap in outreach to vulnerable populations was found. Public information about ice storm response was delivered through social media, but a large segment of the population was not reached. The City found that there was no direct method of wellness checks, and volunteer agencies were frequently overwhelmed. During extreme heat days, the City opened eight cooling centers located in community centers, but their usage was limited. These findings led the City to the realization that vulnerable populations were not always being served during extreme weather events – meaning the target audience of the City’s emergency communications efforts were sometimes unreached during critical times. The City of Brampton then discovered a key opportunity to improve its emergency response outreach. Census data demonstrates that 90% of Brampton citizens had religious affiliations. All major faith groups were represented and made frequent use of 79 registered places of worship across the City. The presence of faith-based communities in the City of Brampton brought to light a new method of sharing information and spreading resilience across vulnerable communities. From this realization, the Lighthouse Project began.

Brampton Vulnerability Map: Places of Worship and Vulnerable Populations

The results of the study also included a map showing concentrations of vulnerable populations, distribution of FBOs, and 1.5km distance to place of refuge. It was found that many FBOs were located near vulnerable populations, meaning they were well-suited to act as a resilience hub in the community.

Identifying Actions

The project included a study identifying and mapping vulnerable populations and faith-based centers around the City, forming relationships with leaders from FBO’s around the City, and hosting training workshops for FBO volunteers from different religious communities. The training workshops covered key concepts from climate change, adaptation, and emergency preparedness. The project was inclusive of major faith groups present in the City of Brampton, as well as all municipal wards, which each had representation from at least one faith-based organization. The Brampton Environmental Planning Division and the Brampton Emergency Management Office (BEMO) coordinated the program together and enlisted the support of FBOs already signed on to the existing emergency preparedness program.

There were five overall phases involved in the project. Phase one of the project consisted of the background research which would inform the selection of training locations and participants. The study included identification of vulnerable populations in Brampton, an inventory of FBOs and NGOs, and a list of potential FBOs to be invited. Phase two of the project included contacting FBOs for potential collaboration, evaluating risks and opportunities associated with the project, and creating an agreement template. FBOs near the highest concentrations of vulnerable populations were prioritized. Phase three marked the start of the volunteer training program. Phase four of the project focused on developing a marketing strategy to promote the program throughout Brampton. And phase five of the project was developed to ensure that the program can be replicated in other communities.

Implementation

As outlined in the ‘Planning’ section above, the implementation of this program took place over the course of five phases, and involved multiple actions at the different stages. Phase one and two focused on information gathering and identifying of potential FBO collaborators to participate in this project. Implementation of the actual volunteer training program occurred during Phase three of the project. The trainings took place at Brampton’s Green Briar Recreation Centre on the morning of November 28, 2017. City facilitators used a modified version of the Resilientville framework, developed by the organization Faith & the Common Good. The training included capacity-building strategies and climate-related hazard information. The training groups quickly recognized the potential for FBO involvement in City emergency exercises. The geographical representation of FBOs was a major opportunity for emergency response procedures. For example, while daycare children are typically evacuated to the City’s community center, they could instead be walked to the church two doors down. Phase four focused on developing branding and marketing tools to target vulnerable populations and to engage more faith communities to get involved in training and dissemination of emergency preparedness information. Phase five includes expansion of the Lighthouse through the creation of a province-wide network of support for the initiative.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Positive outcomes associated with this project mostly stem from its innovativeness and inclusiveness across the City of Brampton. The legal agreement established with the FBOs was found to be ground-breaking within Ontario. The collaboration agreements with FBOs included terms for use of facilities, training commitments, activation protocols, and other aspects of emergency response that had not formerly been established with faith groups. The Province of Ontario has since urged the City to share the template with other cities and communities.

The most innovative and positive outcome of the project is certainly the newfound capacity and relationships built across a large population of the City of Brampton. The training of FBO volunteers and leaders, and dissemination of information through strong existing networks, will improve the resilience of the City as a whole. The Lighthouse Program, having existed for a few years in Brampton, provided an entry point to numerous faith leaders who were already engaged with the City on emergency preparedness, and opened more doors for new relationships and collaborations. Consensus from City Council and Senior Management also contributed to the validity of the program. The project also received support from the Interfaith Council of Peel, Catholic Church Greater Toronto Diocese, the Muslims Council of Peel and Faith & the Common Good.

The program’s effectiveness will be measured in multiple ways, including:

  • The level of participation in faith-based organization training workshops
  • Evaluation forms distributed at the training workshops
  • Individual follow-up with participants within a few months from each event to determine the amount of implementation done by participants
  • Expressions of interest from other community groups and municipalities to participate.

Next Steps

Now that the training modules have been established and the network has achieved a level of credibility, the workshops can be repeated annually and expanded to address climate change as well as other City priorities. Over time, it can also be expanded to include other communities, many of whom are interested in replicating the program locally. The City has received significant interest from other municipalities and from FBOs with their place of worship in another community, as the interest beyond the borders of Brampton grows. Since this case study was written, partners have grown from 20 (signed agreements, or agreements in the works) and the City is now at 39 partners with agreements. The City is continuing to reach out to FBOs.