Public policy papers Lessons Learned or Lessons Forgotten: The Canadian Disaster Experience Joe Scanlon, Director Emergency Preparedness Unit CarletonUniversity 2001
The classic Canadian study of hazards is Hewitt and Burton’s book The Hazardousness of a Place, describing the hazard history around London, Ontario. London is occasionally hit by floods and other emergencies. But, in retrospect, the most striking hazard that London had experienced is ice storms. Until January, 1998, when ice on trees, power and telephone lines left scores of communities in a state of emergency, Canadians – including those in government and emergency agencies -- did not accept how serious a hazard ice storms can present. They had not learned – in fact probably have still not learned – the lessons from history.
As Hewitt and Burton imply, the first key lesson about Canadian mass emergencies is that they are often predictable. Earthquakes occur over faults, floods along rivers. Tsunamis affect coastal areas: in 1929, one struck Newfoundland; in 1964, one hit British Columbia after the Alaska earthquake. Sometimes small areas face particular threats. Hail storms frequently strike around Calgary and Medicine Hat: on September 7, 1991, hail smashed in windows and dented car roofs and led to 116,000 insurance claims.
It is not possible to predict precisely when or where something will happen. The Miramichi earthquakes centered near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick occurred at a previously unknown fault. Yet though Hurricane Hazel caught Toronto by surprise, there was a forecast and though the 1998 ice storm was far more devastating than anticipated, Environment Canada did provide accurate weather data. In short, as the natural hazard’s map published by Natural Resources Canada shows, it is possible to identify where there have been and most likely to be hazardous events.