7.3 "Urban Flood" Hazard Notifications in Toronto, Canada: Entangled Creations and the Unintended Implications for Broken Communication and Public Uptake

Wednesday, 10 January 2018: 9:00 AM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Jennifer A. Spinney, Univ. of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

‘Urban flood’ warning generation in Ontario, Canada is an entanglement of professional ethical obligation between meteorologists with Environment and Climate Change Canada and flood forecasters with regional Conservation Authorities, yet the process and practice is a quagmire of considerable proportions since neither group is mandated to provide residents in the province with advanced notice regarding the possibility or imminence of ‘urban flood’ threat. While federally-based Environment and Climate Change Canada is generally responsible for weather before it ‘hits the ground’ and may choose to mention the word ‘flood’ in their Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, provincially-based and largely municipally-funded Conservation Authorities (CAs) are only required to warn for urban flooding as it relates to rivers or watercourses in their jurisdiction’s watersheds. This leaves a notable gap in service delivery for flood forecast and warning notification away from rivers, or oftentimes that which occurs in the core of urban centres, as was the case during the urban flood event in July 2013 in Toronto, Ontario Canada, where over 90mm of rain fell in approximately two hours resulting in extensive flooding of city streets and major transportation corridors, traffic disruptions and power outages. Inspired by this event, the paper presented here describes a facet of my doctoral research effort which aims to understand people’s experiences producing, communicating and using urban flood notifications in Toronto, Ontario through the lenses of governance, sense-making, and risk perception.

After qualitatively analyzing data collected from participant observation at the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre (OSPC) and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority office, as well as surveys and semi-structured interviews with 12 OSPC meteorologists, 10 CA flood forecasters, 10 media representatives, 15 institutional partners, and 20 residents living in Toronto, over a 16 month period, I intend to highlight aspects of language in a flood warning that stood out to participants, the difficulty producers of flood notifications have in choosing the label Watch over Warning, as well as show the varying ways ‘urban flood’ is defined across groups, the multiple perceptions regarding the causes for ‘urban flood’ events, and the variable imaginations for who institutional and residential user groups perceive is responsible for communicating advanced warning of this hazard. From this I plan to describe the implications and unintended consequences word choice, labelling and perceptions have in the efficacy and desired uptake of (urban) flood information for intended recipients, or institutional and residential user groups. The results of the research call into question the appropriateness of ‘urban flood’ as a label altogether, demonstrate areas of disconnect in terms of perceived importance of flood information and responsibility for providing that information across groups, and perhaps most importantly, identify extremely useful considerations for the Meteorological Service of Canada and the Conservation Authorities should ‘urban flood’ warning generation for hazardous events developing away from rivers and watercourses become enacted as a routinized and standardized operating procedure in the region.

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