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Flood mitigation project inspires deep community engagement

Team breaks through barriers of flood aftermath in Black Diamond, AB

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When Meghan Aebig was in Black Diamond AB to support flood recovery and mitigation work last fall she stepped into a coffee shop and an awkward moment. In line before Meghan a patron was sharing concerns that the ‘”new engineer” she was about to meet wasn’t going be able to help her.

Located an hour south of Calgary, Black Diamond was hit hard by the floods in June 2013. The water treatment plant got washed out. The campground was destroyed and water came up from that campground into town at the Highway 22 bridge. Other infrastructure and homes were also damaged in the flood.

The property of the patron Meghan had just met was damaged in the devastating June 2013 floods in Alberta and in prior years. She had worked with several engineers in the past, which only underscored her concerns. Her sentiment was not unique.

Meghan realized that she was the “new engineer” in question.

She bit the bullet and introduced herself.

“You must be Meghan. I was just telling everyone how you’re coming to help me,” was the bridge-building reply.

Meghan and her team quickly understood that working in this context — one full of negative experiences, fears about what the spring weather would bring, and many residents grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder — would need some new measures for deep listening, trust building and effective communication.

In the past, projects of a similar nature involved consulting with municipalities and presentations to council. In this case Meghan and her team took steps for deeper community engagement. They held many individual and group meetings with residents and open houses at an office space the town made available. They also focused on listening deeply to understand community member concerns and to explain clearly what mitigation measures they planned to take and why.

Residents were part of the team figuring out what to do and how.

“It’s their community and they were directly impacted. We’re coming in after the fact, so we tried to ensure that everyone that should be involved was,” Meghan says.

After a few months of work, a letter came from the same person Meghan first met in the coffee shop expressing how happy she was with the help the Urban Systems team brought.

“It feels pretty good — knowing that she felt afraid for so long and we were able to help her,” Meghan says.

The team is working to ensure that all mitigation measures are in place in Black Diamond as soon as possible so that the town feels protected.

Meghan hopes that the relationship the team has built with the community will continue even after mitigation measures are in place. The community expressed a similar sentiment, asking the team to become their engineers for future work.

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