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Rapid risk assessment of natural hazards

In Canada, severe weather and geological hazards take place every year and cause considerable damage and economic losses. Knowledge-based decision-making on prevention, preparedness and response by municipal and government agencies is critical to increasing resilience to these events.

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Figure 1: Example of an output map showing economic losses from a magnitude 7 earthquake scenario. Economic losses are estimated for polygons that represent census geostatistical areas. The red losange represents the epicentre, which is located some 10 km east of Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport.

The NRCan Public Safety Geoscience Program has recognized the outstanding challenge for local public safety stakeholders  to access, understand and communicate knowledge and results on risk assessments. In fact, there is a wide range of sophisticated software and tools for assessing the negative impacts resulting from natural hazards, but they all require users to have expert knowledge of geological sciences, computers and geographic information systems. This is not a commonly found skill set.

The goal for this project was to develop a user-friendly and interactive web-based application intended for use by Canadian emergency managers and first responders to quickly analyze, assess and visualize the potential risks from earthquake and flood hazards in their community, and thus better understand their own exposure and vulnerability. It also sought to improve communication between scientists and public safety stakeholders, and to contribute to increasing the resilience of communities to earthquake and flood hazards.

“The development of a tool allowing non-experts to run their own otherwise complex seismic and flood risk scenarios was a major simplification challenge.”
- Miroslav Nastev Research scientist, Project leader,
Geological Survey of Canada

The main government collaborators were Public Safety Canada, Sécurité publique du Québec and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), as well as emergency managers from municipalities in southern Quebec and Ontario. The multidisciplinary research team analyzed and interpreted a large body of scientific information from specialized partners, such as NRCan's Canadian Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation and the Geological Survey of Canada, and information available from several Canadian universities, including Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQÀC), École de technologie supérieure, Western University, and the University of Waterloo.

Developing the application also involved identifying and analyzing existing data from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Canadian Hazard Information Service, Statistics Canada, the National Building Code and from municipalities.

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Figure 2: Members of the scientific team responsible for the development of the web portal for rapid risk assessment of natural hazards. Project leader Miroslav Nastev is third from left, second row.

The result is a web application that bridges communication barriers between risk experts and decision-makers, equipped with intuitive drop-down menus available at the click of a button, that can be run with minimal input requirements from users. It was designed to offer a one-stop shop solution for multi-hazard risk analyses and a standardized capacity in both scenario mode and real-time mode. The what-if scenarios allow users to elaborate their own risk analyses for the preparation of realistic and sustainable mitigation solutions. The application also enables a direct connection to the national seismograph network and soon, water level and river flow measurements will be available.

This web application supports the Government of Canada in increasing the safety and security of Canadians by automatically generating and displaying real-time potential impacts of major earthquakes and floods in an easily digestible manner for decision-makers in emergency management and public safety community. At this time, the earthquake and flood modules are fully functional, with a goal to integrate other hazards such as strong winds, forest fires and more.

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