Building Community Resilience: Key considerations and lessons learned from twelve Canadian communities

QUEST, a national non-government organization advancing Smart Energy Communities, led a two-year initiative, Municipalities and Utilities Partnering for Community Resilience, which aims to address the impacts of extreme weather events (e.g., high winds, ice storms, floods, and forest fires) on community energy resilience and energy utilities across the country. Almost 90 percent of Canadian energy utilities have been significantly impacted by extreme weather in the past decade; and, despite the need for reliable energy supply, there are limited tools and assessment processes to help local governments and utilities to collaborate and plan effectively for risk mitigation and climate adaptation. This two-year initiative involved twelve Canadian municipalities in the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and Alberta and maintains the following objectives: 1) to foster collaboration between municipalities, energy utilities, and other community stakeholders, 2) to conduct climate risk and vulnerability assessments using endorsed methodologies, and 3) to inform climate adaptation measures and emergency preparedness.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

QUEST’s Municipalities and Utilities Partnering for Community Resilience initiative aimed to foster collaboration between municipalities, energy utilities, and other key community stakeholders to undertake a climate risk and vulnerability assessment using several tools, and to work together to select climate adaptation measures, including: adopting policies and practices, augmenting risk-based decision-making, improving infrastructure, land-use planning, asset planning, energy planning and reliability measures, increasing public education, communication, coordination, and emergency preparedness and response during prolonged power outages. Whether located inland or on the coast, the major types of climate hazards participating communities are exposed to include: 1. Hydrological hazards (e.g., flooding, sea level rise, and coastal erosion and storms), and 2. Atmospheric hazards, especially ice storms, wind storms, blizzards, hail, and hurricanes on the east coast, and associated power outages and interruptions to services. Other increasingly important climate hazards of concern to municipalities include extended heat waves, water deficits, and forest/bush fires, interruptions to food and medicine supply, and hazardous material spills due to inclement weather. Both hydrological and atmospheric hazards pose significant risks to municipal infrastructure (e.g. storm water systems, water and wastewater systems, municipal roads, shelters, communications, etc.), as well as energy distribution systems, continuity of essential services, not to mention impacts to private property, public health and safety, and the local economy. Historical and projected climate data and maps for this report were extracted from the Climate Change Hazards Information Portal (CCHIP). The climate data for each community was extracted into spreadsheets and relevant data was used to develop the climate data summaries for each community.

Identifying Actions

This initiative led by QUEST (between 2018 to the end of 2019) supported twelve municipalities in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island to develop climate risk and vulnerability assessments using a combination of data gathering, workshop exercises, validated assessment tools, and methods to develop context-appropriate recommendations for climate adaptation and resilience. Phase 1: A climate risk and vulnerability assessment stage resulting in an assessment report for each community. QUEST designed and delivered an interactive and participatory workshop bringing together multiple key stakeholder groups in 2018. Workshops enabled municipalities to identify hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities while simultaneously considering opportunities to both reduce risks and enhance community environmental performance. Each participating community received their Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Report, which included a further analysis of risk and resilience to all climate hazards using JIBC’s Disaster Resilience Portal. Phase 2: An action-oriented stage resulting in a set of specific recommendations to advance resilience. Building on the findings of the survey and the first workshop, QUEST designed and delivered a second interactive and participatory workshop in the second half of 2019 with the same stakeholder groups. The purpose of the workshop was to identify place-specific recommendations that addressed identified weaknesses. The workshop enabled participants to select recommendations based on the type of hazards identified in their community, to prioritize them, and to assign a cost, a timeline, and a department lead. Each participating community received their Resilience Recommendation Report at the end of 2019. Phase 3: Networking and knowledge exchange.


During the second phase of the project QUEST helped participating municipalities select recommendations tailored to climate hazards faced by the community as well as initiatives and policies already in place. Recommendations include securing budget and funding; developing integrated municipal climate governance; strengthening public education and communication; incorporating climate risks and adaptation measures into land-use planning, bylaws, and asset management; and building resilient energy infrastructure.

Key recommendations related to developing integrated municipal governance include:

  • Create a task force to oversee progress and advance climate adaptation measures;
  • Ensure that hazard/risk assessment is integrated into key municipal planning documents; and
  • Develop Climate Change Adaptation Plan, incorporate recommendations from this assessment.

Key recommendations related to public communication for emergency preparedness include:

  • Develop an integrated communications strategy focused on key hazards;
  • Develop ongoing public education and outreach strategy specific to vulnerable populations by working with partner organizations;
  • Work with current property owners in flood prone areas;
  • Develop regular community-based exercises for each hazard type; and
  • Strengthen collaboration with industry, local businesses, care facilities and schools.

Key recommendations related to land-use planning and asset management include:

  • Update Asset Management and Land-use plans to consider climate hazards and risks;
  • Ensure the community has suitable bylaws or regulations to limit/prohibit development within flood hazard areas; and
  • Invest in green infrastructure.

Key recommendations related to building resilient energy infrastructure include:

  • Strengthen collaboration with utilities;
  • Ensure all critical municipal facilities and services have stationary back-up power and multiple energy sources; and
  • Explore energy monitoring systems and local energy resources and storage for local renewable power and heat options at municipal facilities and shelters.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

QUEST identified common strengths and vulnerabilities among participating municipalities throughout the initiative. Common strengths fall into the following categories, Emergency Management Plan (EMP) (e.g., EMPS are in place and regularly reviewed); Coordination and communication (e.g., Mayor and Council usually understand their roles and responsibilities to communicate with the public before, during, and after an event); Energy resilience (e.g., stationary and mobile back-up power exist for most essential facilities); Land-use planning and asset management (e.g., land use planning documents and Asset Management Plans are increasingly integrating climate hazard considerations); and, Food Security (e.g., most communities encourage local gardens and markets, but do not have a policy for increasing green roofs, community gardens, etc., nor a food security strategy). Common vulnerabilities fall within the following categories Water infrastructure (e.g., ongoing prioritization for separation and replacing old storm and sewer pipes); Energy infrastructure (e.g., all municipalities rely on the main grid for power); Energy supply (e.g., public education on emergency preparedness is still weak); EMPs (do not account for climate projections, and therefore do not consider increased frequency or severity of flooding, forest fires and/or new climate hazards); Communication (e.g., most communities do not have an inventory of skills and resources in the community); Planning (e.g., most communities do not have an established task force or committee to provide coordination and accountability to advancing adaptation measures); Food, Medicine (e.g., all municipalities lack a strategy for interruptions to food supply); and Transportation (e.g., smaller communities need to obtain or designate vehicles to transport vulnerable persons to shelters).

Next Steps

Some key challenges for energy utilities include dealing with uncertainty and increasing costs and significant investments to improve real time grid management. Each recommendation and challenge area is covered in greater detail in the report. The project ends with eight tips to develop a resilience strategy, including:

  1. Know where you stand before you start;
  2. Know your enemy;
  3. Be broad, be open, be rigorous:
  4. Identify your strengths and weaknesses;
  5. Consider your options;
  6. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just enhance how it spins;
  7. Secure stable financial resources; and
  8. Repeat.

Additional tips are provided for developing an efficient communications strategy, including key messages by hazard type.