Blog Archive

Friday, June 14, 2019
By Richard Moreau and Dr. Adrienne Ethier

We are not quite half-way through 2019 and yet Canada has already experienced multiple, simultaneous extreme weather emergencies, including the Ottawa River flooding and a tornado touching down East of the city. Wildfires are again burning in Alberta, a reminder of the 2016 wildfire that destroyed much of Fort McMurray. Northern Ontario communities are already facing evacuation due to the proximity of fires to their communities. Canadian communities are undoubtedly experiencing the global rise in frequency and severity of natural disasters. 

The obvious question is: How can we better prepare? Simply put, we need to proactively acknowledge the risk of natural disasters and invest in mitigation and preparedness. 

There are two vital elements to improving emergency management preparedness: 1) taking a systems-based approach, and; 2) using integrated science-based modelling to better understand risk. 

The Cost of Mitigation and Preparedness vs. Cost of Recovery
Experts tend to agree that for every dollar invested in mitigation, adaptation and preparedness, savings of up to $6 in the response and recovery can be achieved. In Canada we have seen even greater savings in projects like the Winnipeg Floodway. The Winnipeg floodway cost $63 million to build in 1963 and was modified for another $665 million in the 1990s. As of 2013 the floodway had saved an estimated $32 billion in flood damage costs over its lifetime. This means estimated savings of $44 for every dollar of floodway investment made.    

Investments in mitigation and preparedness can take many forms: re-building infrastructure stronger than the “100-year event” standard, pre-positioning physical measures in high-risk areas, and investing in diversionary measures in areas where risks are well-defined and understood. 

Systems-Based Approach
In addition to physical mitigation efforts there is also organizational preparedness – or preparing those who must respond. Depending on the scale of the disaster, a response may require resources from the province or even the federal government. For instance, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has been responding to an increasing number of disasters.  To improve preparedness, all stakeholders need to plan and train for regional risks. This includes local first responders, emergency managers, community-based volunteer groups, and anyone else willing to help with recovery. 

Preparedness means reducing the period of confusion when a disaster strikes to bring immediate focus where needed. This enables faster response, transition to recovery and resumption of normal life for the community. Integrating all response groups – including voluntary organizations – is essential to accelerating the pace and effectiveness of response.
Better preparing Canadian communities for disasters requires a shift in emphasis from response and recovery toward mitigation, preparedness and adaptation. 

Science-Based Risk Models
Understanding the risks of natural disasters in different regions is essential to taking appropriate mitigation measures. Risk modelling tools could include the integration of science-based predictive models with Geographic Information System (GIS)-based environmental and operational maps (e.g., water quality, land-use, financial liability or economic risk, watershed characteristics, dams, hydrometric data, snow survey sites, climate change) to forecast the risk of floods, fires and ice storms, and to complement or add to that knowledge with spatial analyses and/or data from past disasters. The result would be an integrated GIS-based predictive map that uses available data and knowledge on terrain and weather to simulate a range of possible outcomes based on a series of inputs.

For emergency managers and emergency planners, scenario-based experimentation is essential to planning for possible outcomes. By manipulating variables like expected rainfalls and warmer weather (and faster-melting snow), emergency planners can visualize a range of scenarios and optimize planning. This would allow for the pre-positioning of breakwaters and sandbags, execution of rehearsals and mobilization of volunteer networks. 

Communicating Risk
The outputs of an integrated science-based predictive map would provide the visualization needed to facilitate public comprehension and to better understand their own risk. Current risk assessments are generally well understood by emergency planners and environmental scientists, yet they may not be appreciated by home owners and the public. The public should have access to detailed information about the nature of the risk, its impacts, and what can be done to better prepare.  

Integrated predictive maps can also help the public clearly see high-risk areas and how the risk will manifest. Predictive maps can could show how high the water will rise in a flood; where the fire could burn; or for how long the power could be knocked out. The outcome of a natural disaster should be clear to the public to emphasize how people and communities would be affected. 

Modelling Costs
There is a cost to developing and working with models. Data models need to be built and constantly revalidated, data from multiple sources collected, visual analytics products developed for the public, and decision-makers and planners briefed on possible outcomes. Much of the data for these models is available and collected by federal, provincial or municipal agencies. 

The cost of integrating these risk models and maps will inevitably be lower than the cost of response and recovery.  In Dunrobin, west of Ottawa, the clean up for the flood of 2019 will include cleaning up the last of the 2018 tornado debris. Fort McMurray is forever changed from the wildfire of 2016.  Homes destroyed by fire and floods have displaced entire communities and forever changed their attitudes and fabric.  The question surrounding these social costs cannot be ignored or measured in the same way as financial costs.   

Houses can be rebuilt. However communities cannot fully return to their previous state.  

Emergency response truly requires a “whole of society”’ and system-wide approach, meaning all levels of government, with of the involvement of industry, academia, local volunteer organizations and affected residents in disaster planning and preparedness. Deliberate investment in mitigation and preparedness measures and more informed planning through the use  of risk modelling tools will help communities  better understand and prepare for the inherent risks resulting from the ever increasing natural disasters. 

Richard Moreau is Director of Emergency Management Solutions and Dr. Adrienne Ethier is Senior Scientist, Emergency Preparedness at Calian Group. 


Wednesday, May 8, 2019
By Dr. Mathew Fetzner

The Total Health and Wellness Strategy released in 2017 by the Department of National Defence remains the most ambitious and important program to date aimed at improving the health of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members.

Creation of the strategy was vital.

Many soldiers returning from conflicts experience considerable mental suffering, affecting their life as a whole. Repeated studies have found that CAF members deployed to combat zones experience chronic conditions such anxiety, depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after returning home, at elevated levels relative to the general population.

Mental health researchers and professionals, myself included, are still in the early stages of understanding causal links between trauma and mental health outcomes such as PTSD and addiction, but our knowledge is surely deepening. There remain many challenges ahead, but one hopeful area is in the mounting evidence showing a connection between exercise and improvements in some mental health and anxiety disorders.

It was only about 20 years ago that the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health recognized a link between physical activity and emotional well-being. Studies have recommended that adults get approximately 2.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week to achieve significant health benefits. Yet, relatively few Canadians exercise to this degree. According to one study, only about 15% and 30% of Canadian and American adults, respectively, exercise to this extent. 

The evidence strongly indicates that exercise is an effective treatment for a broad range of mental health conditions (such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and posttraumatic stress). Moreover, exercise is affordable and accessible for most of the population. 

The research

While studies are rarely “conclusive,” the following indicate some of the promising results from regular exercise. Research findings have included:

• The positive effects of an eight-week program consisting of 30 minutes of both aerobic and nonaerobic exercise, three times per week. Substantial improvements were observed among patients with panic disorder with agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder (SAD), and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

• Regular physical activity is associated with a lower prevalence of select anxiety disorders. This was from an examination of data from a large, nationally-representative sample of American adults. 

• Exercise and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) led to significant improvements in mental health compared to those who had no treatment. This research was tested on 77 adults with SAD for the effectiveness of no treatment versus exercise and MBSR. 

• An eight-week study involved 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week for adolescent females with PTSD. Participants experienced lower levels of depression, anxiety and PTSD. 

It is interesting that longer exercise programs appear to have a larger therapeutic effect. The evidence suggests that exercise programs should be at least 10 weeks in duration in order to produce meaningful reductions in trait anxiety. 

Why exercise works

Why might exercise bring benefit? Not a lot of research has been done on this, but research indicates the following:

• Short bursts of aerobic exercise help lessen the fear that anxiety will lead to catastrophic consequences. This “anxiety sensitivity” is a common trait among individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders. 

• Exercise may provide natural exposure to bodily sensations related to fear and anxiety. Exercise may help patients understand that these associated physical sensations are non-threatening.

• Exercise may help raise the individual’s resilience to stressful mood states. A variety of neurochemicals released during exercise are thought to be possible mechanisms for regulating negative psychological states.

• Sleep disturbances, daytime sleepiness, nightmares, and poor sleep quality are prevalent among individuals with anxiety disorders. There is a strong relationship between exercise and sleep improvement. 

• Research indicates that individuals who successfully complete an exercise regimen, especially at higher intensities, may experience a sense of mastery and confidence that they have the power to change conditions around them and achieve desired outcomes.

CAF services

The CAF offers extensive services and programs focused on the prevention and treatment of mental health issues. CAF primary care physicians are all trained in suicide assessment, management and prevention. Any member that is identified as being at risk of suicide is seen immediately by a medical doctor. Base clinics offer access to psychosocial services and mental health clinicians, all of whom have training and expertise in assessing, managing, treating, and preventing suicide. Members can call 1-800-268-7708 to access bilingual telephone or in-person counselling services. Individuals are encouraged to dial 911 or go to their local hospital in the event of an emergency. The CAF offers a range of other programs and services as listed here.  


While research points to the positive therapeutic effects of exercise, we continue to face challenges surrounding motivation for exercise programs. Not all patients follow the recommended regimes in terms of frequency, duration or intensity. The challenge now is to better understand why this is the case and how we can get more serving members and veterans into the rhythm of regular and sustained activity.  


Dr. Mathew Fetzner is a Calian Clinical Psychologist and Acting Program Manager at CFB Petawawa for Canadian Forces Health Services. 

Monday, April 8, 2019
By Dr. William Barker

We expect a lot of police officers. We invest them with authority and issue firearms to them. We ask them to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity, forbearance and good judgement in situations most of us cannot imagine.

It is no wonder, then, that we take such pains to screen them properly.

After all, there is a lot at stake. Admitting individuals who are ill-suited to police work is not only a waste of training time and resources but it can introduce additional risk in terms of the safety of the public and the officers.

Screening law enforcement candidates is not easy, nor is it perfect. But our procedures have come a long way since I started conducting them back in 1979. Our sole focus used to be screening out candidates, such as those with mental health disorders or psycho-pathologies. Today, we look just as closely at competencies favouring success.

Calian Health helps numerous police forces across the country screen candidates. We also support federal departments and agencies such as Canada Border Services Agency, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Correctional Services Canada. In doing so we measure simultaneously for strengths and weaknesses using two of the most widely used psychometric tests in North American law enforcement: MMPI2 (Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory 2) and 16PF (16 Personality Factor). 

On the written psychometric test individuals are tested on a sliding scale in a variety of areas including adaptability; decisiveness; judgement; problem solving; emotional regulation; stress tolerance and management; substance abuse avoidance; and many other factors. Those demonstrating psychopathology or mental health issues are screened out.
Then comes the interview. Research shows that the interview is key to confirming or challenging conclusions reached in the psychometric test and providing greater overall reliability – or predictive quality – in the testing process. 

The interview is conducted in two parts: one, a clinical follow-up on the written test; and, two, a structured stress interview. In the clinical follow-up we probe any concerns that have been identified in the psychometric test to understand whether any extraneous factors may have influenced the test score. 

In the structured stress interview we ask the candidate to describe a stressful situation from their past and probe their emotional, behavioural and cognitive responses in the situation they are recalling. Research has shown that by asking them to recall a demanding, real-life situation we can read their probable level of tolerance to similar situations in the future.

Setting the bar high
Candidates, of course, are working hard to put their best foot forward. This can present challenges for testers. The combination of the psychometric test and the two-part interview helps identify inconsistencies where an individual could be attempting to distort the results.

Law enforcement officers have one of the most demanding roles in our society. The job has unusually high stressors. Public safety professionals can witness disturbing acts of violence, be threatened with physical harm and have to deal with violent criminals -- the kind of people you and I rarely encounter, if ever. As a society we must set the bar high. That’s why the ratio of rejected versus accepted candidates is higher than most graduate and professional schools in the country. 

The screening process we use is formal, structured, empirically-based and defensible. While I would never purport it to be perfect, it provides strong assurances of an individual’s suitability for law enforcement, based on objective measures. 

Dr. William J. Barker leads Calian’s psychological assessment services. He is former president of Priority One, acquired by Calian in 2018.  

Learn more about our Psychological Assessment Services.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019
By Ian Becking

Canada is not spared from the global rise in disasters, which are increasing in both severity and frequency.  According to the Canadian Disaster Database, Canada has seen 195 major disasters between 2008 and 2018, including extreme heat, wildfires, drought, storms, floods and melting permafrost.
These and other events pose serious risks to our people, communities, economy and environment. Emergency Management (EM) programs have never been more important.

Calian has worked extensively with EM directors, program managers and executives across the country to bring our deep knowledge and experience in major event planning to EM assignments, and we always learn something new in the process. My aim here is to share some of that experience to help maximize the benefits and effectiveness of your program. Though it can be hard to quantify the benefits of EM in dollars and cents, I like the term return on investment (ROI) – it’s unambiguous.
ROI is an important consideration because the resources supporting EM programs are limited. Your community welfare depends on getting the best value from every dollar invested and, the reality is,  EM programs carry risk. Risks include the possible consequences of program failure, such as reputational damage, loss of public confidence or, worse, loss of property or even lives. With ROI in mind, your goal continues to be improving community or organizational resilience. Maximizing ROI does not mean cutting costs -- it means maximizing your program’s effectiveness.

Four Pillars of EM
Updated in 2017, Public Safety Canada’s EM Framework has guided federal, provincial and territorial collaboration since 2007.  Resilience, it says, is “the capacity of a system, community or society to adapt to disturbances resulting from hazards by persevering, recuperating or changing to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning.” Canada’s EM Framework has four pillars: prevention/mitigation; preparedness; response; and recovery. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
The first step in any program is to analyze the risks and hazards posed to your specific community or organization. This is foundational to prevention. For example, what hazards might your community or organization face as a result of proximity to freight trains, nuclear power generation, chemical plants or coastal areas?
Calian EM experts recently produced a report for the City of Whitehorse.  It included our analysis of the greatest risks of catastrophe for the city. First and foremost was wildfire. Hazardous material accidents, major earthquakes and extreme cold were also identified. These conclusions were based on a careful and considered analysis and laid a foundation for Whitehorse’s EM program. We ranked key risks based on their likelihood, potential impacts, the ability of the community to recuperate, their effect on public confidence and other factors.
The prevention pillar’s risk and hazards analysis informs your emergency plan, which must be as clear and simple as possible. It is essential that EM response personnel clearly understand their roles and responsibilities. 

So, how do you know if your plan is effective? Your highest ROI will depend on regular, consistent practice and training. Training should be progressive. Practice, practice, practice. Set your standard high and make a continuous effort to reach it over multiple years. Your training program does not need to be expensive. Start small, with discussions and workshops. Proceed to practice drills and functional exercises. Finally, hold periodic full-scale exercises. It’s critical that participants feel they are improving and succeeding with each exercise. Confidence is key. 

Response and Recovery 
This is when all the upfront work pays off. Before and during response it’s important to start your recovery planning. Team members should be assigned planning tasks such as where and how to house community members what government or relief programs could help them get home sooner, returning to a close-as-possible normal state. 

Following an emergency event or an exercise, conducting a methodical review is key to improvement. When we speak of lessons learned we often mean “lessons collected.” It is important to document those lessons and put them to work through an action plan. Discuss, dissect and internalize them so that you can refine your EM program with any necessary changes to processes, structures or behaviours. 

Emergency preparedness and response requires effective planning, program development, training and exercises. Following these steps within the four pillars of Canada’s EM Framework will help you make sure that your program is effective and your EM dollars are well spent.  

Ian Becking is Director, Business Delivery, Calian Emergency Management Solutions. The Calian team of accredited experts provide a holistic suite of emergency management solutions tailored to the needs and capabilities of any organization.


Friday, March 22, 2019
By Kyle Folk


Feeding the world’s population over the next 50 years will require as much food as we’ve produced since the beginning of civilization. Can we do it? 

I believe we can. But the question highlights the magnitude of this challenge. We feed 7.7 billion people today and by 2056 will need to feed a projected 10 billion. Failure to meet this challenge would mean widespread food shortages, hunger and starvation, and social and political upheaval. Since we cannot create more arable land, we must do the following:

  1. Grow more. There is a need to focus on the pre-harvest portion of the food supply chain to increase farmland yields. 
  2. Increase efficiencies throughout the supply chain, especially in our use of water.
  3. Reduce waste. The opportunities here are enormous. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that one-third of all food grown in the world, or 1.3 billion tonnes, is either lost or wasted.

Agricultural technology (AgTech) is vital to making progress in all three areas. And as I will explain, so is the farmer.

Grow More

Much research is being conducted to improve crop yields. For example scientists have found plants in the desert – which would otherwise be impaired by soil salinity – benefit from microbial life. Bacteria might be able to help non-desert plants and food crops grow amid high levels of salinity, extreme temperatures, nutrient deficiency or drought. 

Research is also underway to develop crops that are more resistant to insects (since diseases and pests reduce global food yields by approximately 35 percent) and herbicides, allowing farmers to kill weeds without harming their crops. Drought-resistant crops are also under development. 

Increase Efficiencies

Significant global investments are being made in smart farming. Companies are offering a variety of technologies and solutions for several types of precision crop farming tools, including GPS tracking, soil scanning, data management, precision irrigation, crop scouting, and yield monitoring and forecasting, among other technologies.  Indoor agriculture has been found to cut supply chain lengths dramatically, reducing the carbon footprint. Indoor and vertical growing, combined with renewable energy technology, can cut energy costs and carbon footprints.  

Reduce Waste

The opportunity to reduce food and ag waste is enormous. The challenge here is personal. I grew up in a small farming community in Saskatchewan, Canada, and in 2009 my parents suffered a devasting loss of grain due to spoilage. This incident, which could have been prevented, spurred me to invent a product to help farmers reduce grain spoilage. I did that through the establishment of IntraGrain Technologies in 2011 and a product called BIN-SENSE®.This product gives farmers the ability to monitor their stored grain, anywhere, anytime using a smartphone app. 

Grain spoilage can happen in a number of ways. For example insects can create hot spots that spread through the grain as the infestation grows. Another cause can be a high percentage of green seeds, that is, seeds that are not dry, that create pockets of moisture, spoiling the grain  through mould growth.

Even farmers who take all the precautions can experience large quantities of grain spoilage without warning. Worse, there is no insurance available. Farmers bear the full brunt of the loss, which can cost as much as $500,000 for a single incident. And those costs do not include any damage to the bin itself. Worst case, the bin becomes useless.

Canada has some of the best storage practices in the world. Yet, we still lose far too much to spoilage. Developing countries lose much more partly due to poor storage. 

Solutions Must Benefit the Farmer

It’s tempting to think of AgTech as top-down innovation, where solutions move from laboratory to field. But having grown up on a farm I know first-hand that any solution lacking buy-in from farmers is doomed.

Agriculture is still very much a family-run industry. The FAO says 90% of farms are family-owned and produce 80% of the world’s food.

Asking a producer to adopt new technology for the greater good is like asking your kids to finish their dinner because of global food insecurity. If farmers don’t value the technology they won’t use it. 

So what is a key success factor for feeding the world’s hungry? Keeping the farmers’ best interests in mind. 

Kyle Folk leads AgTech strategy at Calian Group Ltd. He is founder and President of IntraGrain Technologies Inc., acquired by Calian in 2018. 

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