During a Vancouver symposium on preparing for an earthquake, Bill Adams was asked about Calgary's latest brush with disaster, a near week-long blackout caused by fire and an underground explosion that left 5,000 residents without electricity and hot water.
"At least there are no [major] earthquakes in Alberta," the vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Western and Pacific Region, answered.
But in the last 2½ years, Calgarians have faced almost everything else. They've been pushed physically – having to move to new locations during the flooding and blackouts. They've had their patience stretched – waiting for the power to come back up, which it did Thursday. And they've been soaked financially by things they can't control.
Little wonder Calgary's city workers and business leaders are getting good at confronting bad. They saw a power outage as a chance to shine a light on their city's can-do spirit, and they believe that will overcome any fears of Calgary being shunned by those who see it as disaster prone.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada website, Southern Alberta has racked up $2.7-billion in insured damages since 2011. One half of that sum came from the 2013 flooding of downtown Calgary and much of High River. It was the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
In August, a wind and hail storm ripped through Airdrie, just north of Calgary, and produced a $450-million repair bill. The very next month, a snowstorm overwhelmed roadways and snapped tree limbs throughout Calgary. Clearing away the fallen branches and debris cost $18-million.
So when the downtown's west end went black last weekend due to a human miscue – faulty power cables caught fire and sent flames through a manhole cover – small businesses shut down, apartment buildings emptied and people were left scrambling to find a place to spend the night.
Having been through this before, Calgarians showed little panic and there was no fighting or looting. No earthquakes, either. What helped was the degree of readiness developed after the 2013 flooding.
"The severe weather that we have been seeing more and more frequently in Alberta causes heavy rains that overburden sewer and storm water systems, resulting in more sewer backups in homes and businesses," assessed Mr. Adams, who added that an upgrade to the city's sewer system would have been effective, too. "It is vital that this infrastructure be updated …"
Another spinoff from last year's flooding was a chance to remind businesses to take out interruption insurance, a plan that would pay for loss of income if a store owner was unable to open due to a disaster. Some people had the insurance; others may now be persuaded to get it. Calgary's Chamber of Commerce also informed the public it had an emergency preparedness plan on its website, complete with a checklist of what to do and bring.
"I would say this [power outage] was meaningful to the businesses affected but not harmful to Calgary overall," said Adam Legge, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
Calgary was praised across the country for how it responded last year to seeing its downtown core turned into a lake. Using that as reference point, Calgary Economic Development had a perception survey done. It asked 1,200 students and workers in five cities whether they were interested in moving to Calgary for school or employment.
Their response was encouraging: Calgary retained its reputation for being an "entrepreneurial and innovative city" – a good place to do business. Forty per cent of the people said their perception of Calgary had improved post-flooding, while 50 per cent said it had stayed the same.
"What was very positive was how the city came together," said Economic Development president and CEO Bruce Graham. "We came through that whole process [the floods] relatively unscathed … Resiliency, that word became part of our vocabulary. It built stronger community connections."
So, rather than collapse under the weight of the Bow River's runoff into downtown, and instead of pointing fingers, Calgarians have witnessed the rewards in working together. And with all the practice their emergency response teams have been getting, they should be battle ready for the next calamity that is sure to come. Unless it's an earthquake.
"There's been a shift in the weather problem," said IBC's Mr. Adams. "We have storms that are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars now … We're advising people that if this is the new norm, let's get used to it quickly."