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SPRING 2020 FLOOD UPDATE – A MATTER OF PUBLIC SAFETY DURING A PANDEMIC
By Gillian Ward
While Canadian municipalities along rivers and flood plains keep a careful watch on water levels and flows, it appears that the large numbers of volunteers needed for effective sandbagging may be harder to find this year, thanks to Covid-19. WaterToday looks at how floods season is being managed, in consideration of Covid-19 distancing.
For those not under a legally enforceable obligation to isolate, the asymptomatic, non-travelling residents having medium to low risk of contact with Covid-19 cases, Canada’s Public Health guidelines simply recommend practising diligent hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing.
Social distancing (physical distancing) means limiting the number of people one comes into close contact with, and when necessary to be out in public, to maintain a distance of 2m between individuals. (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/guidance-documents.html)
So, how does one deal with an immediate threat, such as a flood, while also keeping the required Covid-19 measures?
WaterToday consulted with a Red Cross Certified First Aid Instructor for an emergency response perspective on management of multiple risks or threats. Triage, the process of assessing damage in priority sequence, identifies the most immediately life-threatening injury or factor for first response. In the case of a mass casualty incident, or a case with more than one life-threatening factor, the responder has to make the call, which factor to deal with first.
The City of Gatineau is one of the Canadian municipalities experiencing recurring floods, with disastrous losses in 2017 and 2019. Just in time for spring flood season 2020, the City of Gatineau issued a clear statement of priorities, “The physical distancing measures introduced by the Province have to be maintained even in case of flooding.”
While flood risk was considered low as of the April 9 statement, if sudden high temperatures and heavy rainfall were to produce damaging flood flows, shoreline residents have been put on notice that the municipal response will not be as in past years.
“As stated on numerous occasions, Gatineau is a resilient and proactive city when it comes to floods and emergency measures. For the time being, there is no reason to expect any flooding this spring, but our crews are preparing, nonetheless. Should there be any flooding, our response and actions will have to be different this year given the pandemic.
We will all have to adapt to a new reality. For that reason, I ask all shoreline residents to start preparing now, and to find a place where they can go in case they have to evacuate.” Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, Gatineau.
In such circumstances, homeowners will have to apply their own triage assessment to determine how to individually respond, defending their own personal health and safety.
To be sure, there are human safety risks associated with flooding. The immediate physical dangers include the possibility of drowning, electrocution, infection from bacterial contamination, and later on, illness related to mould in flooded homes. Flood response and mitigation activities can also be risky, with physical injuries resulting from sandbagging exertion, and physical/mental stress exacerbating pre-existing health conditions.
If the flood response plan involves placing tens of thousands of sandbags, one must reason whether this can be safely accomplished by the members of one’s home alone, in time to prevent damage.
Quebec guidelines for Covid-19 prohibit all gatherings, with some exceptions, including “a gathering that assembles the occupants of a private home…and any other person who offers a service or whose support is required. Individuals who offer a service or support must maintain as far as possible a minimum distance of 2 metres between them and the occupants.”
In consideration of these guidelines, it may be that “individuals who offer service or support” may include those willing to help with flood mitigation, if anyone willing can be found. It would seem a matter of discretion of the individual, and those offering support, whether the 2m distance rule is possible to maintain while building a sandbag flood wall.
Flow and water levels around Gatineau are monitored in real time from multiple hydrometric stations, by the City of Gatineau in concert with the Ministère de la Sécurité publique and the Commission de planification de la régularisation de la rivière des Outaouais (CPRRO).
For more information, see www.gatineau.ca/flood.
WaterToday will continue to monitor flood risk and report as the season progresses.
(Note that those falling under the legally enforceable quarantine or self-isolation orders are outside the scope of this article. See the jurisdiction health authority for details on the legal requirements in your area).
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