What the heck is CASCADING NATURAL HAZARD RISK? a guest post by Veronica Woodruff (and an invitation to help inform local emergency preparedness)

We are so fortunate to live in a dramatic landscape that is Sea to Sky, one of the most beautiful places on earth, part of the Líl̓wat Nation and Squamish Nation Traditional Territory.

There is seemingly boundless nature, and this splendor has created a transcendental awe in me that consistently keeps me reverential to its magnificence and complexity.

I have also been astonished by its destructive power which can be a stark reminder of my vulnerability – a tiny being in this huge landscape.

I am lucky to have a job that brings me all over the watershed, often reminding me my smallness, like when I am standing on the banks of the Ashlu River looking Harlequin Ducks or traversing through giant cottonwoods looking for mountain goats at Keyhole Falls. 

This region is threatened by numerous natural hazards including landslides, debris flows, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunami, storm surges, wildfires, droughts and floods, which can occur simultaneously or in sequence leaving communities little time for effective response and recovery. In other words, cascading.

There is evidence through provincial and global initiatives that demonstrate that the risk in our area is increasing as a result of climate change. In addition to posing an immediate risk to life, they have the potential to devastate communities, cripple critical infrastructure and destroy economic lifelines (e.g., transportation systems, communication, and power supply).  

Regardless of which end of the Sea-to-Sky you live on, the greatest natural hazard risks that have the highest likelihood of occurring in the short-term (within 30 years) are flooding, debris flow, landslide and interface forest fire. And of course, the risks that have a lower probability of occurring in the short-term are still some of the larger consequence risk associated with earthquake and volcanic eruption. 

I recognize that we are all currently living through a pandemic and the last thing that I want to do is create anxiety about yet another uncontrollable event with potentially dire consequences. The point of becoming informed and prepared, as a community and a region, means we are building the foundation of resiliency by understanding the risks, and appropriately planning for yourself, your family, home, and neighborhood. 

The best planning is done when it directly involves the people that are affected. Local and Indigenous governments have developed plans addressing the highest priority risks in each community and there has been some regional collaboration. But developing comprehensive plans and directly involving the community take a lot of resources, and often emergency managers are dealing with actual emergencies, which always take priority. Plus, not everyone in the community takes time to read the plans (check your local government webpage if interested, there is a lot out there!). 

Our dynamic landscape also attracts researchers from around the world in earth sciences, climate change, biology and so many other disciplines. I am working on a project through the Centre for Natural Hazard Research at SFU, in collaboration with local governments throughout Sea-to-Sky, that is looking to do three things:

  1. Identify knowledge gaps to gain an understanding of community preparedness and develop an action plan for future collaborative research and training. The idea is to guide future research initiatives to support the needs of our community. 
  2. Develop a framework for effective community engagement on natural hazard risk that can be applied to subsequent workshops throughout the Cascadia Range (our team has researchers from SFU, Royal Roads, UBC, Washington University and Portland State University).
  3.  Finally, report back to community leaders with the results to support their emergency management planning tools, allowing organizations to see gaps and opportunities and plan accordingly.

I would love to hear from you! Please complete take our survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/N8C8C7J

And if you would like to join the conversation, we are looking for a range of community members to attend a planning workshop. We have some great speakers and want to hear from you about what this information means to you. 

the “north” workshop covers the traditional territory of the Lil’wat Nation, N’Quatqua Nation and extends to residents of Area C of the SLRD and the Village of Pemberton

We are also hosting a virtual talk about natural hazard risks at the Pemberton Library on Thursday, November 19 at 7pm. It is free but you need to register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/…/tZYrdO2tqzksE9fDrxnqTlm8aPaCI…

For more information please reach out to vwoodruff@clearcourse.ca or FB messenger to Veronica Woodruff. 


The S2S South is focused on Whistler, Squamish Nation, District of Squamish and SLRD Area D.

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