Protecting infrastructure from climate change and creating stronger communities with a multi-step process
Droughts that cause severe water rationing and destroy community greenspace and gardens. Storms that flood areas that have never been affected before. Wind gusts that uproot century-old trees and damage apartment roofs. Extreme weather and natural disasters happen. And they will happen again.
How can a community protect itself from the impacts of climate change? How can communities recover from extreme weather events?
To help municipalities develop resiliency, Engineers Canada worked with myself and others in the industry to create a powerful framework—a tool that can identify risks, highlight areas to protect, build strong communities, save municipalities money, and safeguard the environment at the same time. The use of this tool has increased in popularity in the last few years, and we’ve adapted it for a variety of functions. We call this framework the PIEVC Protocol.
Important questions the PIEVC Protocol can help answer: How can a community protect itself from the impacts of climate change? How can communities recover from extreme weather events?
Where did the PIEVC Protocol come from?
In the summer of 2005, Engineers Canada created the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee—also known as PIEVC. I served on this committee. Natural Resources Canada requested that Engineers Canada develop an assessment of the vulnerability of Canada’s infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. The committee realized that it didn’t have a tool to conduct this assessment. So, we developed one. In 2007, we released the tool—known as the PIEVC Protocol—and started conducting assessments. Since then, the tool has been applied over 50 times in Canada and three times in Central America.
How do you use the PIEVC Protocol?
The PIEVC Protocol isn’t a piece of software. It’s a process, and it has several steps.
First, you need to define the boundaries of the infrastructure that you're going to be evaluating. The boundary could be one specific building, or it could be every building in your city’s downtown core.
_q_tweetable:What I forecast would happen over the next three to five years is happening now._q_Second, you need to collect information. Where are you going to get data about the infrastructure? Who has the information that you need? For example, you might be looking for data from inspections of a building’s roof, foundation, or ventilation systems.
Then, you need to look at what kind of climate events can impact the building. For example, heat can affect a building in different ways, and while consecutive days of 35-degree Celsius temperatures aren’t a huge issue for a building’s concrete, that heat could severely affect the building’s ventilation, since the air conditioning system will have to work harder for longer. Or, if the building maintenance person tells you that freezing rain has damaged several roof units in the past, you can focus on those events that damage roof systems and predict if these issues are going to worsen in the future.
Then you do a risk analysis. You’ll likely be looking at a huge matrix, with hundreds of infrastructure components and a dozen climate elements. The PIEVC Protocol risk assessment lets you eliminate the proverbial “bad weeds from your garden,” as you discard the unimportant interactions. You can cut 1,500 interactions down to 50.
Next, you take those 50 risks, for example, and you consider solutions. You ask: “How are we going to adapt? What are mitigative measures to minimize the impacts of those risks?” You look at how infrastructure failures are going to impact the community. Make sure to look past your engineering team and bring in professionals from a variety of disciplines—including planners, operators, policy experts, and administrative specialists. Everyone needs to be involved.
A versatile tool
You can apply the PIEVC Protocol to a wide range of infrastructure, and that’s one of the tool’s strengths. To date, the PIEVC Protocol has been applied to airports, hospitals, roads, bridges, buildings, water resource systems, and storm and waste water systems. You can use it for a single infrastructure asset, like a building, or for an entire city’s water system.
Benefits of using PIEVC Protocol
The PIEVC Protocol enables you to establish a climate risk and vulnerability profile and focus on key risks—not just preconceived risks that people think of based on their own experiences. Once you identify those key risks, you can start looking at solutions.
The Protocol also enables you to help the community. You’re going beyond just looking at infrastructure risks. For example, if the water treatment plant fails and there’s no water, how would that impact the community? What kind of mitigation measures can you put in place? How does your emergency response plan address that situation? Those questions help us to look at solutions for climate change adaptation.
I also want to highlight the connection to asset management—aka strategies that can help a community sustain roads, bridges, sewer lines, water treatment facilities, and other parts of its infrastructure. We’re not doing the PIEVC Protocol just for the sake of doing it. We’re addressing the climate risks because we know that climate is going to have an impact on the infrastructure over its life-cycle. This helps us evaluate the type of impacts and their magnitude, and how to address them in our asset-management process.
A water intake pump station from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. The PIEVC Protocol has been used with this First Nations group, among others in Canada.
The future of PIEVC Protocol
What I forecast would happen over the next three to five years is happening now. Years ago, I knew that the Protocol would be recognized as a powerful tool, and now it’s happening. Fast.
Transport Canada in National Trade Corridor Fund applications have referenced the Protocol. It’s been cited by the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation for climate change vulnerability assessments. It’s also been mentioned by the province of Ontario in a guidance document about including climate change impacts in environmental assessments. Governments are asking about this tool frequently.
We’ve also worked with the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) to adapt the Protocol for First Nations communities; and we have used it for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the Moose Cree First Nation of Moose Factory, and the Oneida Nation of the Thames. When using PIEVC for First Nations, we prioritize the traditional knowledge of these communities and use that information in the PIEVC process. Look out for my next blog post, where I’ll describe my experiences collaborating with these groups on the First Nations PIEVC/Asset Management Toolkit.
Contact me if you’d like to learn more about the PIEVC Protocol.
About the Author
Guy Félio is an infrastructure management specialist with over 30 years of experience in civil, geotechnical, and municipal engineering. He focuses on finding practical, innovative, and cost-effective sustainable and resilient solutions for clients—mainly with owners and operators of infrastructure and facilities.More Content by Guy Felio