Not all city emergencies make the evening news

Nor do all emergencies fall out of a dark, foreboding sky

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Allan BonnerTORONTO, ON, May 19, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Emergency responders often “work within their own silos, often to the detriment of public health, safety and urban sustainability.”

That’s the opinion of Dr. John Renne of both the University of New Orleans and Oxford University. He kindly notes that my new book – Safer Cities of the Future – breaks down these barriers and presents a manual to guide urban professionals on key aspects of creating safe and sustainable cities.

I was mainly writing about response, transit and safer cities through design and new building materials. But, the silo observation is a good one.

Let’s break down some silos for safety’s sake.

The City of Baltimore’s recently re-written plan notes that there can be up to a 45 per cent savings on flood insurance if you use a community rating system. The system is designed so you can work through 19 measurable activities to improve:

1) public information

2) mapping and regulation

3) flood damage reduction

4) warning and response

I note that only No. 3 requires a city to reduce flood damage. All other matters appear to involve communication, information and regulation. What a deal!

Response to city emergencies short on prevention

That’s not the insurance silo, or the building permit silo or the community relations silo. It’s the “keeping people safe and reducing their costs” silo. It’s not right that an emergency plan notes this deal, but then emergency responders just wait for the flood and pick up the debris. Let’s get more involved in prevention.

Speaking of debris, Baltimore has projections for different levels of events, including floods, windstorms and so on. In one scenario, it is estimated that there will be 315,000 tons of debris – half from trees. This debris will require 3,100 truckloads to remove it.

Do you see the solution? If pruning trees reduces this debris by half, that’s about 1,500 trucks loads and more than 155,000 tons of debris that won’t be clogging the roads and streams. Pruning trees is a good idea anyway, to avoid contact with electrical wires, injury to pedestrians, and to the improve health of the tree. What the plan doesn’t get into is the hundreds of workers with chain saws, gasoline, lubricating oil, saw horses and other gear that won’t be needed if trees are pruned.

This should not just be in the arborist’s silo – it’s a public safety, transport, business and emergency planning issue, too.

Let’s think of public health in general in Baltimore and other great cities. In Baltimore’s emergency plan, there’s a note that the city has 35,000 cases of sexually transmitted diseases and 10,000 animal bites. All other public health issues have reported cases of 1,000 or fewer.

Some city emergencies just sneak up on us

These preventable ailments have an impact on absenteeism, productivity, public health budgets and crowds in emergency rooms. This is not just a public health silo or a dry statistic on a page. Everybody in the city administration should be attacking these health issues as if they were an emergency, because they are.

Not all emergencies fall out of a dark, foreboding sky. Not all emergencies make the evening news or trigger a news conference from just about everybody with an important sounding title. Some emergencies just sneak up on us, around a corner on a tree-lined street one sunny afternoon.

Emergencies don’t attack in silos. Nor do they only attack a silo. They attack on multiple fronts, using surrogates, deception and new techniques. Let’s respond on a broad and deep front with ingenuity, creativity and with a mind for the big picture.

Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He loves cities and his next book will be titled Safe Cities.

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