Canadian Consulting Engineer

Consulting engineers prepare to help in Fort McMurray

May 17, 2016

Fort McMurray residents evacuating along Highway 63 on May 4 as fire encroaches on the area. Photo: Wikipedia, DarrenRD.

Fort McMurray residents evacuating along Highway 63 on May 4 as fire encroaches on the area. Photo: Wikipedia, DarrenRD.

Consulting Engineers of Alberta has been quick to act during the devastating fires in northern Alberta and the mass evacuation of people from Fort McMurray and other towns.

By last Wednesday, May 11,  Ken Pilip, P.Eng., chief executive officer of CEA, was meeting with members of the Alberta Consulting Construction Emergency Response Team (“ACCERT”) to make sure they were ready to provide help with reconstruction efforts.

ACCERT was set up as a coordinating effort among construction industry organizations following the last great natural disaster to hit Alberta, the great floods of June 2013 in Calgary and the southern area of the province. At that time four organizations — the Alberta Construction Association, Consulting Engineers of Alberta, Consulting Architects of Alberta and the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association — signed a memorandum of association to create a legal entity under Part 9 of the province’s Companies Act.

The idea behind ACCERT, Pilip explains, is to help governments handle the crisis by overseeing reconstruction projects from zero to completion. “The rationale is that the government departments of transportation and infrastructure have a lot of work on their plate already.  They can’t just shift and move over to the new problem, so instead they can hand off projects to ACCERT.”


ACCERT will provide project management and “industry facilitation” services, but will not provide actual engineering or architectural services. The group will help by providing a “collaborative approach to reconstruction efforts.” Its mandate is also to “co-operate and collaborate with other industries involved in reconstruction following a calamity.”

Meanwhile, engineering companies who are members of CEA are donating funds to provide immediate relief to the fire’s victims and evacuees. Pilip asked the companies to let CEA know what they have donated and by last week he estimates they had donated $300,000-$400,000 to the Red Cross.

As the fires continue and are spreading north, any hopes of evacuees returning to their homes  or of oil production getting back on line have been put on hold. By May 17 flames had destroyed a 665-room oil sands work camp north of the city and a new evacuation order was issued to 19 work camps and 8,000 people.

Once things do return to normal Pilip believes the rehabilitation work will be extensive. “You need lots of resources,” says Pilip. For example engineers will have to go in to check whether buildings exposed to heat have sustained structural damage. And, he points out, “Because all the vegetation is burned off, if we start to get a lot of rain there will be a lot of stormwater run-off.” Excessive run-off will create environmental issues. “So there are lots of areas that we need to pay attention to in order to make things safe for people.”

Reports have estimated that the cost of the remediation and rebuilding will be in the billions of dollars. The federal government will be responsible for up to 90% of the eligible costs of recovery once they rise above $64 million.

The peripheral costs for oil sands operators who were forced to shut down after their staff fled Fort McMurray are estimated to be as high as $65 million per day in lost production. An article in the Globe and Mail on May 12 estimated the total production lost at 48% and a value as much as $760 million.  The fires had spread to 354,000 hectares by Tuesday.

To read a May 17 report in the Globe and Mail on the status of the fires in Alberta, click here.



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