Professor Dan Lane brought a focus on climate adaptation to this week’s Canadian Operational Research Society Conference in Ottawa. He and his colleagues presented outcomes from “C-Change,” a joint SSHRC/IDRC initiative focusing on Canada and the Caribbean and headquartered out of the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. Their talks, at the largest Canadian gathering of scientists in operations research, addressed themes such as vulnerability and resilience in seaside communities, risk analysis in decision making, system dynamics and statistical modelling of severe storms, and community response to the effects of sea level rise.

The impetus for C-Change (short for “Coastal Change”) is the need of shoreline communities to plan for the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. In a background paper published on the project’s web site, professor Lane writes, “coastal areas are experiencing greater weather extremes, consistent with climate change model predictions…. there has been a significant increase in the last decade in the intensity of extreme rainfall and flooding events.”

While the problem has “engendered interest across sectors and levels of government in prevention, mitigation and risk reduction measures,” smaller coastline communities tend to be at a disadvantage in facing the threat. They lack the resources that cities have to conduct large-scale simulations to plan for storm surges and sea level rise, even though they may be particularly vulnerable to them. C-Change for this reason has focused on climate adaption in small communities, through an engagement with 8 study sites in Canada and the Carribean.

As an example, the C-Change community was instrumental in organizing an event in Little Anse, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia that enabled emergency officials there to evaluate and simulate response to crisis situations. Lane and his student Alex Chung, a candidate in the M.Sc. System Sciences Program attended the simulation, or “tabletop exercise,” held at Université Saine-Anne, Petit de Grat Campus in May 2014.

C-Change Community Collaboration in Cape Breton

The tabletop scenarios, developed by Chung as part of his master’s research, were linked to the potential failure of the local breakwater. “There is one road leading into part of the community, and there is a dip in the hill,” explained Chung. “In a storm surge or flood, the road could be blocked, essentially cutting off some residents. A key factor in this is the breakwater that was supposed to reduce the exposure is not offering the protection that it once did.”

C-Change engaged the Emergency Operations Centre for the Municipality of Richmond County, Cape Breton. The simulation and discussion were facilitated by a local representative with the Red Cross and brought participation by the mayor and councillors, members of the municipality administration, as well as the local MLA and MP for the area as guests. Later, Lane and Chung joined the Red Cross official in speaking to students in area schools as part of Emergency Preparedness Week.

The exercise in Little Anse was typical of other C-Change work in emphasizing, among other results, alternative adaptation strategies in planning for more frequent and severe storms and the evaluation of strategies in support of community decision-making. “The simulation helped build local capacity by demonstrating the need to mobilize knowledge, skills and resources from the ground up,” said Chung.

The trip also exemplified the C-Change approach is contributing knowledge and lessons that have both academic and applied value, Lane explained. “C-Change is using a participatory process of adaptation decision making for the communities, and the outcomes have truly helped these communities prepare for specific local risks and more generally have contributed valuable knowledge about achieving community preparedness to deal with the impacts of climate change.”

About C-Change

The C-Change Project (2009-2014) links community members and university researchers from Canada with members of the Caribbean community in support of research on coastal adaptation to environmental change including the impacts of storm surge and sea-level rise on susceptible coastal communities.

About the Canadian Operations Society Conference

The 2014 CORS Conference was held May 26-28 in Ottawa, with strong contributions from the Telfer School and the University of Ottawa.