Key Initiatives: Climate Resiliency
As the climate around us continues to change, as a regulator we are adapting to identify, analyze, and mitigate the climate change risks to technical safety.
Extreme weather and climate resiliency
In 2021, the changing climate resulted in difficult weather conditions, including heat waves, wildfires, floods, and extreme cold. As these events become more common, people suffer personal and economic hardship, as well as increased risks.
While this year’s State of Safety offers summaries of some of the work that was undertaken, every technology that we regulate was impacted by the challenging environmental conditions.
Supporting the province during flood
When out-of-season flooding began in November 2021, the mix of debris, flood waters, and chemicals heightened the risk for the public, our partners, and our safety officers.
Our teams partnered with local contractors and utilities to align our services and answer questions about repairs and refurbishment. Safety officers and contractors prioritized inspections and used our remote assessment capabilities to get equipment recommissioned as quickly and as safely possible. As these urgent challenges required immediate solutions, we adapted our reporting processes to expedite our province’s recovery.
The floods caused significant damage, with a total loss of assets in many cases. While elevating devices were largely preserved due to early intervention, two passenger ropeway units faced erosion at their towers and up to 25 sites were affected in one common carrier rail line. Additionally, one Alternative Safety Approaches (ASA) client reported multiple locations of potential hazards stemming from equipment that was damaged or misplaced. Due to the urgency and dynamic nature of the situation, there is no definitive number of flood-related incidents. Technical Safety BC has established a plan to create a process for capturing data on floods and future events.
Taking action on heat-related hazards
During the heat dome in 2021, we encountered a high-risk situation involving a pressurized bank of compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinders that had been abandoned in a high-density urban area. As temperatures rose, the cylinders released natural gas into the atmosphere, as well as an adjacent building’s HVAC system. Extreme heat intensified the danger, putting the surrounding community at risk.
Our safety officers and engineering team, partnered with professional consultants, the local fire department, Fortis BC, and the municipal government to assess the situation and find the safest viable solution to protect the public. This team was able to empty the cylinders and eliminate the danger to the community. Our learning from the incident will inform our response to similar emerging risks. While this incident was resolved without complication, it highlights some of the potential risks that will emerge from climate change.
Awareness and Education
Our 2021 public safety campaigns focused on raising awareness for the technology-related hazards caused by wildfires, floods, and extreme cold.
While amplifying messages from emergency services, we emphasized the importance of relying on licensed electrical and gas contractors and aimed to keep preparedness top of mind throughout the year. Due to these efforts, in 2021 we not only strengthened our partnerships, but our weather-related public safety messaging reached more individuals than ever before.
In 2020, Technical Safety BC established a climate action team focused on: 1) understanding and managing risks from the interactions between technical systems and climate change; 2) supporting provincial efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, e.g., enabling safe adoption of low-carbon technologies; and 3) measuring and reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions.
While helping our clients navigate the effects of extreme weather has always been a priority, during 2021 we launched our climate resiliency program and began development of a climate risk register to strategically prioritize and address climate interactions with the safety system.
In addition, we studied safety gaps and opportunities in emerging low-carbon technologies used in building electrification and hydrogen. This work supports BC’s transition towards a low-carbon future, which will ultimately slow climate change.
Finally, we measured our greenhouse gas emissions from our own fleet and facilities. This has led to a plan to gradually transition all fleet vehicles to low-emissions vehicles.
As we build resiliency and prepare for a changing climate, we recognize that we must remain agile to best serve our clients. This includes collecting data on hazards related to extreme weather events, understanding how to aid in recovery, assessing emerging risks from gradual changes to climate over the lifecycle of technologies, and preparing to regulate new kinds of equipment.
As new low-carbon technologies enter the market such as heat pumps, electric vehicle energy management systems, hydrogen, and new types of refrigerants, we must be responsive and ready to intervene with programs designed to assure their safety. We also must understand how climate change will impact current technical systems and equipment, and build resiliency by adjusting our risk control activities.