Bottom left: John Oakley, Justice Institute of BC (retired). Bottom right: Brian Boutin, Alberta Emergency Management. Agency. Top left: Jon McCuaig, BC Wildfire Service. Top right: associate professor Peter Anderson.

Peter Anderson: BC floods reveals need for systemic change in emergency management

January 24, 2022

In November, associate professor Peter Anderson served as the lead for the critical infrastructure protection with the BC government. Learn more about his work below.

What was your work during the fall floods and landslides emergency?

I served as the lead for critical infrastructure protection in the Advance Planning Unit of Emergency Management British Columbia’s Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre (PREOC) located in Surrey. The PREOC coordinates and facilitates provincial and other resources to support local authorities and provincial agencies responding to emergencies or disasters.

What were your core responsibilities during the emergency response?

My main responsibility was to coordinate assistance to critical infrastructure (CI) providers (telecommunications, electricity, etc.) to ensure that they were able to support crucial local and regional emergency management activities, such as mass evacuations, response, relief and recovery operations, as well as continuity of supply chains.  I was also involved in carrying out assessments to identify new risks that could impact CI, determine consequences of loss, and help to address any critical resource needs and actions required to mitigate impacts.  I also assisted with further enhancements of the “Common Operating Picture” online mapping system developed by the province’s GeoBC to support these activities.

What challenges did you face?

One of the biggest challenges was adjusting to the scope and magnitude of the event that was not only local and regional in impact, but also national and international, especially due to loss of key transportation routes and key supply chain services.

In comparing your work over the summer fighting the wildfires in BC, what was similar or different?

All of these events were climate related and record setting, affecting several of the same communities and occurring in the midst of a pandemic. What was different was that the November atmospheric river was an unprecedented rapid onset event that was difficult to forecast in a timely way as well as magnitude and effects. While its impacts were confined to a smaller geographic area, they affected a much larger population and simultaneously threatened virtually all of the key infrastructures – power, telecommunications, transportation, pipelines, and supply chains.  

In reflection of your emergency response work this past year, what challenges are services like your work facing today and into the future?

Climate induced hazards are increasing in magnitude, and the latest flood/landslide event reveals how quickly our existing community coping capacities can be overwhelmed and that building greater resiliency to hazards and associated risks requires a shared responsibility among all citizens, levels of government and private sector partners. As devastating as these events were, with anticipated increased effects of climate change, we still need to plan collectively for even more intense and frequent occurrences, as well as other major threats such as earthquakes. We also need to be cognizant of and willing to address pre-existing socio-economic and other conditions that affect vulnerability and suffering to ensure equitable and empowered participation in risk reduction efforts.

How will you bring your recent experiences back to the classroom and to your students?

Experience from this past year provides an opportunity for bringing systemic and complex real-world challenges into the classroom and graduate studies so we can deconstruct them, critique existing and propose new theories, strategies and action plans based not only on case studies of disasters occurring elsewhere but, more importantly, case studies of local events in which students themselves were likely engaged.