Alberta government doesn’t track its biggest disaster risks, auditor general finds

The Alberta government lacks a plan to identify the most pressing disaster risks to the province, Alberta’s auditor general has found.

In a report released Tuesday, auditor general Doug Wylie’s office found a provincial patchwork of incomplete information about the potential risks of floods, fires and other potential disasters. He also found Alberta has no ranked list of which disasters present the biggest risks and where the risk is most acute.

The lapse could leave Alberta less prepared than it could be for a major emergency, Wylie said. And Alberta is experiencing more disasters at a higher cost.

“The government may not have the information necessary to identify and fund its highest priorities, and may overlook areas where additional emergency planning or policy-related decisions are required, and it may find itself responding to disasters that could have been avoided or mitigated,” the report said.

Disasters caused $329 million in damages between 2003 and 2009, the report notes. That cost was 25 times higher from 2010 to 2016, when disasters prompted $9 billion in damages.

The provincial government shouldered $2.3 billion of that $9 billion, with some reimbursement from the federal government, the report said.

The lack of disaster risk plan could leave the provincial government on the hook for more significant, avoidable costs, the report said.

The auditor also said in tough financial times, it’s even more important to spend wisely on disaster prevention to avoid higher costs down the road.

“Obviously, the human suffering is tragic in any situation,” Wylie said in an interview. “There’s no guarantee that this would necessarily prevent it but certainly, it would go a long way to help the planning, so you’re assured you’ve done the best with the information that you have.”

Assessment plan stalled in 2016

The Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) began work on a plan in 2014 to rank risks to Albertans, the report said.

However, discussions were derailed in 2015 when ministries couldn’t agree on how the agency had reached some of its conclusions.

Work stopped on the plan in 2016 due to a perceived lack of resources, the report notes. It resumed in September 2019.

The auditor also said AEMA lacks some of the information it needs to make a comprehensive plan. Although municipalities are required to have a local hazard-assessment plan, nearly a quarter of them don’t, and many of the existing plans are incomplete, the auditor found. The City of Edmonton is among those without a plan.

Provincial ministries also have no obligation to identify and share potential disaster information with AEMA, a gap the auditor flags as problematic.

More to come

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