Local knowledge used to develop flood response tool 

Council Briefs: Real-time tracking tech coming to buses in 2018

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - Useful data A flood response tool is part of the RMOW's emergency management plan.
  • File photo
  • Useful data A flood response tool is part of the RMOW's emergency management plan.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has turned decades of local knowledge into a tool for forecasting floods.

At its Dec. 20 meeting, council endorsed an annex to its Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan known as the Flood Hazard Specific Guide — or Flood Plan — that maps out how the RMOW will prepare for and respond to a flood event in Whistler.

Included in the plan is a new Flood Forecast Rating Tool, which uses local knowledge of weather, water and soil indicators to determine if and where a flood might occur.

"A lot of our staff who have worked here for a long time, or members of the public, have kind of realized when we should be worried, and we'll often get calls to municipal hall saying, 'Are you watching this weather rolling in?' and that kinda thing," said emergency program coordinator Erin Marriner in a presentation to council.

"We kind of captured that data, so that now we can pull out this one-page tool when we get a forecast we're worried about and just check the boxes."

The tool allows staff to match rain forecasts with current stream flows, risk of rapid snowmelt at higher elevations and the capacity of soil to absorb rain to pinpoint potential flood impacts.

Once the level of risk is determined, staff can prepare and respond accordingly.

"We've taken that and directly, in the document, linked it to flood readiness procedures for low, medium or high, and then which staff are responsible to do these things," Marriner said.

Actions included in the plan range from communicating flood risk to key staff (low risk, assigned to roads supervisor and general manager of infrastructure services) and ensuring culverts and storm drains are unblocked (medium risk, roads supervisor) to preventative measures like sandbagging or prepping equipment (high risk, roads supervisor).

"This is all related to readiness, and then there's a detailed response process for once we are actually in the flood event... or if we have a flood we weren't expecting, we jump right into a response," Marriner said.

Flooding events in Whistler are unique compared to the ones seen in Vancouver in that Whistler's tend to come from rain-on-snow events in the fall, whereas Vancouver's are more often from freshet and snow melt in the spring — which makes the Flood Forecast Rating Tool all the more valuable.

"Often we get alerts from the River Forecast Centre and Emergency Management BC that maybe aren't so accurate to our actual location, so this tool allows us to take the forecasts that are issued by the province, but really look at them from a local criteria," Marriner said.

Council had nothing but praise for the plan after the presentation.

"It's a great tool," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "Everybody on the committee was very supportive of it, and really quite impressed with how comprehensive the tool is."

Coun. Jen Ford agreed.

"This is really next-level work," she said.

"The entire scope of your work is fantastic so thank you so much."

The Flood Plan can be read in full at www.whistler.ca/flood.


Whistler's buses are one step closer to having real-time tracking technology.

At its Dec. 20 meeting, RMOW council authorized general manager of infrastructure services James Hallisey to execute a Memorandum of Understanding regarding SmartBus Real-Time Technology.

When it's implemented in early 2018, transit users will be able to track their bus in real-time using their smart phones.

"The (Transportation Management Advisory Committee) has been advocating for real-time data on our buses for awhile and we've worked with BC Transit on that, and it has been sped up and slowed down for various reasons over the past 12 months, and one of the reasons has to do with federal funding," said transportation demand management coordinator Emma DalSanto in a presentation to council.

BC Transit has since secured some federal funding under the Government of Canada's Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, meaning the local government share of lease fees for the project will be reduced to 17 per cent for the first five years.

Lease fees include the installation of the tech, software licensing, WiFi upgrades at the transit facility and passenger info displays.

Annual operating costs — which include cellular and WiFi charges, on-bus hardware maintenance and support, software licensing and hosting charges — will be divided using the usual transit cost share method (53.31 per cent paid by local governments, 46.69 per cent by the province).

The net share paid by the RMOW for the first five years will be about $31,000 per year, with costs rising to $56,615 in 2023.

Whistler will be one of eight B.C. communities participating in the first phase of BC Transit's SmartBus program, which includes the installation of real-time tech, software for operational oversight, data analysis and reporting.

Aside from the real-time technology, the SmartBus program also aims to install closed-circuit televisions and upgrade automatic passenger counters at a later date.


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