City creates committee following a number of wind-related accidents

After the 2009 death of three-year-old Michelle Krsek, who was killed after being struck by wind-blown debris from a construction site in Calgary’s downtown core, the On-Site Construction Safety Committee was set up by the City of Calgary in partnership with the local construction industry to assess the dangers of wind storms.

The committee, whose members are from the Calgary Construction Association, the City of Calgary and Occupational Health and Safety, worked together to develop a possible solution to wind-based dangers.

“We do get a lot of unsafe conditions caused by the heavy winds and unsecure materials, so we developed the Advanced Weather Forecasting System,” said Cliff De Jong, senior special projects officer with city’s building regulations department.

The system, established in coalition with RWDI AIR Inc. and ISL Engineering and Land Services, helps to warn the city about extreme weather that may threaten the region by sending emails at set times with expectant forecasts.

The November 27th, 2011 windstorm that hit Calgary and it’s surrounding area caused approximately $200 million worth of damage.
Photo by: F&M Renovations
“We now get advanced notification of the weather forecast 48 hours in advance, which we use to help the CEMA, the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, do disaster planning,” De Jong said.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, all companies constructing buildings over five stories tall must be subscribed to the forecasting system to help mitigate future risks.

The committee has also developed a guide to help businesses prepare for extreme weather, called “The On-Site Construction Safety Best Practices.”

“It talks about the importance, as well as the best practices, for securing materials onsite during construction,” De Jong said. “We also developed a list of certain items that are at risk of takeoff during a three-second burst.”

A full list of items included in the guide can be found on the City of Calgary’s website  Some of the items on the list include:

• Disposable coffee cup, at risk of takeoff at 13-20 km/h

• 3/8″ Sheet of Plywood, at risk of takeoff at 31-40 km/h

                                       • 5/8″ Sheet of Drywall, at risk of takeoff at 75-89km/h

                                       • 2″ Nut, at risk of takeoff at 120+ km/h

De Jong said the guide is handed out with every business permit application, and should be reviewed by businesses, as it will help avoid incidents.

“The legislation is very clear. It is the owners responsibility: you have to keep your building or home in good repair so that incidences don’t happen.”
— Cliff De Jong, City of Calgary

In November 2011, the windstorms that hit southern Alberta, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, caused an estimated $200 million worth of damage.

De Jong says that the advanced forecasting system, which was launched Jan. 1, 2012, will help the city appropriately deal with storms in the future, “If the event does happen, we can now provide a support role to help CEMA’s efforts.”

In an email, the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Jeff Haley, director of government affairs in Alberta, said if you have damage from the winds and have not yet contacted your insurance company, to do so as soon as possible:

“Do so as soon as you can to get the ball rolling. If you have questions, do not hesitate to call either your insurance representative or IBC’s Consumer Information Centre in Alberta.”

Wind damage over the years

Large amounts of damages are not new to the region though, as the following numbers were reported in recent years:

• 2009 windstorm, $360 million in insured damages

• 2010 hailstorm, $500 million in insured damages

• 2011 hailstorm, $185 million in insured damages

• 2011 fires, $700 million in insured damage

In total, the insurance bureau reported that around $2 billion in insured damages have been paid out in the past three years, with all of the claims being a result of extreme weather.

Despite having five major storms in only three years, Shawn Marshall,

University of Calgary climatologist, said extreme weather in the region is still uncommon:

“The one day when roofs were blowing off was unusual,” he said. “It was a

‘pineapple express’ system: a warm, wet, subtropical Pacific air mass moving towards us. It was the kind we get once every few decades.”

Even though the weather may not occur frequently, the city will still move into developing a plan for other areas of concern, De Jong said.

“We’re in active discussions with the residential sector through the

CHBA, or the Calgary Home Builders Association,” he said. “Over 2012, we will get a better handle of what’s at risk, under what wind speeds and conditions in residential areas.”

As the city is developing strategies to make conditions safer, De Jong said that there are some things that Calgarians can do to help:

• Keep your building/home in good repair

• Have a regular maintenance program for structures attached to your rooftop

• Review the “On-site Construction Safety Best Practices” guide.

“The legislation is very clear,” De Jong said. “It is the owners’ responsibility: you have to keep your building or home in good repair so that incidents don’t happen.

“If an unsafe condition happens (by a building), we would be able to take action and launch an investigation.”

jtwerdun@cjournal.ca