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A call for action on the Alberta Disaster Recovery Program from the Town of High River
The Story

The Flood

On June 20, 2013 the Highwood River reached a flow rate of 1,850 cubic metres per second, overflowing its banks and flooding the Town of High River. This triggered the evacuation of 13,400 people, 5,400 homes and 6,300 structures. Additionally 1,100 pets had to be rescued. Tragically, five lives were also lost in southern Alberta, including two people in High River.

The numbers cannot begin to describe the impact on the individuals who lost everything.

In addition to the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and household goods, family treasures such as family photos, favourite heirlooms, and other belongings were destroyed. Lives were disrupted. All businesses were impacted. The hospital was closed and patients moved. Schools were closed. Long-term financial implications developed along with all of the accompanying challenges from severe family stress to serious health impacts. Virtually everyone in town was affected, leaving the entire community vulnerable.

The Disaster Recover Program

On June 28, 2013, Order in Council 202/2013 declared a State of Emergency existed in the Town of High River. With the declaration of a disaster, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) moved into disaster operations mode. Alberta Regulation 51/94 of the Alberta Emergency Management Act allows the province to provide disaster recovery assistance to residents, small business, agriculture operations, and provincial and municipal governments if the event meets the criteria as outlined in the regulation. The Disaster Recovery Program is the program used to deliver this assistance.

Unfortunately, it did not take long before the victims of the flood realized that the DRP did not meet expectations. For many, the DRP process itself was re-traumatizing for those who had lost so much – in some cases everything.

Applications were being lost; supporting receipts were not attached to applications; and, it was taking a long time for application processing. Many applicants also experienced a new bureaucratic face with each DRP appointment forcing them to explain again the details of their experience. The complexity of the DRP claims process was, itself, the single most significant barrier to residents making applications.

The DRP Advocacy Committee

In November 2013, volunteers approached the Council of the Town of High River and offered to create the Disaster Recovery Program Advocacy Committee (DRPAC). It had become evident that the DRP process was so frustrating and complex that many applicants were unable to advocate on their own behalf.

The following mandate was approved for the DRPAC by the Council of the Town of High River:
  • Advocate for, coordinate, assist and support residents and businesses in their efforts to obtain funding from the various funding agencies, including the DRP.
  • Provide information and communication for the general public on DRP procedures, and work on individual solutions.
The committee was also tasked to report to Town Council and Administration and identify process improvements, gaps and issues to streamline High River’s recovery.


The DRPAC Report

As documented in the attached report, the efforts of the DRPAC have resulted in a number of specific process improvements as well as resolution on individual files.

Unfortunately, despite the progress made to date, a large number of outstanding files remain as do concerns over systemic issues with the Disaster Recovery Program.

On January 25, High River Town Council released the report of the DRPAC which includes a number of specific recommendations. Read more….

Real People. Real Stories.

Disheartened By the Process
Disheartened By the Process

The force of the overland flood waters on June 20th pushed over parts of our foundation. Water entered under our house, filling up the dirt crawl space, and reaching 30 inches on the main floor. When we entered, the entire main floor was inches deep in silt and the ducting and the crawlspace were filled with flood mud.

Family, friends and strangers rallied to strip out the contents of the main floor – kitchen, bathroom, living room, dining room, computer room all gone as it had been submerged or suffered prolonged exposure to moisture and contaminants while we were evacuated.

Calls to DRP were reassuring: “Do what you need to do to save your house. Save all your receipts. We will be working quickly to get you your first payment of $10,000.”

We applied to DRP; insurance was denied for everything except the bathroom, fridge and freezer.

We hired a structural engineer who supplied us with a stamped and signed report stating the building was structurally compromised and needed a new foundation, a 10-foot section of foundation had collapsed and that mold and contaminated soil were very hard to reach. The same engineer provided a letter later in the process that stated the foundation damage was entirely flood related.

It was obvious to us that if we wanted to save our house, we needed to lift it off of the contaminated, soon-to-be moldy soil and put it onto a new foundation.

An assessor came from DRP on July 20, who measured all the rooms, made notes, took our engineer’s report and other paperwork and said he was not a structural expert but it looked like our foundation was in bad shape.

We started talking to house movers and basement contractors getting quotes. During this time, many calls were made to the DRP indicating that we were preparing to move ahead on the foundation work on the house.
Eventually we were referred to a structural personal at DRP. He was unwilling to agree that the flood was of any significance in the failure of the foundation. We were on our own.

As fall approached, we decided not to wait for DRP. We would not leave our house to rot, mold and then freeze in the mud for the winter. The move was expensive and, together with repairs to the main floor, it represents a significant proportion of our retirement savings wiped out in one day.

We received a payment from the DRP that covered some of our losses on the main floor but nothing for the foundation.

We did not have the time or capacity to continue “going around the mulberry bush” with the DRP. It was taking all we had to keep our heads up and carry on.

Vague, fruitless conversations with minor government employees were neither reassuring nor helpful. They wore us down and accomplished nothing.

Advocates from the town eventually got us an appointment with an Alberta government official who was making recommendations to the decision makers. He led us to believe that there was a chance we would get further assistance. In subsequent conversations, the message changed.

Eventually we received a letter stating that our appeal was complete and that if we wished to continue, we would need to pursue a ministerial appeal and that our deadline for that was December 6, 2015. We were so disheartened by the process, we lacked the capacity to continue and let the deadline pass.

We no longer believed anything fair or good could come out of the DRP.
The Waiting Game Continues
The Waiting Game Continues

Dealing with DRP and the flood has had a huge impact on my mother. I have been acting as her advocate as she is unable to withstand the emotional, physical and financial strain that has resulted from the loss of her family home she purchased 44 years ago At 81 years old, she needs closure.

The morning of the flood she left for a doctor’s appointment in Calgary, and has never returned to her house. We knew for her to see it in such a devastating state would be too hard on her.

Since the flood she has had to start using a walker. She has slipped into a state of depression, confusion and lost hope. Many days she just wants to give up as the waiting is too much.

Dealing with DRP and the agencies involved has been a confusing experience. There has been a lack of communications between departments. I have had to deal with at least 10 agents, most being pleasant to work with and had great intentions but the mixed messages and unclear information has been exhausting. Sometimes it would take over a month to have paperwork uploaded into my mom’s file.

Many times we felt like just walking away and giving up. Most of all I have lost faith in our government, broken promises to get people back into their homes, unfair evaluation process, the waste of money on so many engineers to inspect our home.

The sad thing is at the end of the day when I arrive home, the first thing my mom asks is, “Have you heard from DRP?” as the waiting game continues.
At the End of Her Rope
At the End of Her Rope

This resident wrote the DRP Advocacy Committee a long, detailed letter chronicling a highly frustrating experience of dealing with DRP on her elderly father’s home.

She described being bounced around to different caseworkers, being required to get 12 different quotes to repair the home, being told she would be called and was not, and in fact being unable to find the phone number for the High River DRP office on the government of Alberta website.

Finally, her dad’s file was given to the then-minister of municipal affairs and a senior DRP bureaucrat, but she still didn’t find satisfaction. In fact, several months into the ordeal, nobody from the government had even looked at the damage to her dad’s house.

When we finally heard from this resident, she was at the end of her rope, physically and emotionally.

This is what she told us:
“I would really like a high-level government official to stand in my dad’s living room, and look around at the disaster, smell the mold, and bounce on the unstable floors, and look me in the eye and tell me this house is repairable. I also hope they bring their rubber boots, so they may be the first people to step into the basement since June 19, 2013. I hope they have a strong stomach.”
What’s the Criteria?
What’s the Criteria?

During the flood I was forced out of my home for a total of 12 days. During this time I incurred thousands of dollars of living expenses for myself and my wife. While away, my home sat with three to four feet of water in the basement, causing the suspended ceiling to collapse because of the high humidity. I suffered tens of thousands of dollars of property damage as a result of the floods.

Because I had sewer back-up, much of the costs of repairing my home were taken care of by insurance. But not all.

Upon our return home and assessment of the damages to our home and property, I took the advice of provincial officials and filed a claim through the DRP. I was told on more than one occasion the province would cover any costs, or portions thereof, that insurance wouldn’t cover and was a safety net for residents affected by the flood.

We were told, like everyone else, the DRP wouldn’t cover 100 per cent of our costs, but would at the very least cover a portion of them.

I filled out the application in good faith, believing the Government of Alberta would do the right and proper thing. I received several calls and a visit from DRP officials and provided them with all relevant documentation, and was assured on several occasions we would be covered to one extent or another.

A full nine months after the flood I received a letter of denial from the DRP.

Several of our neighbours have told me stories of getting well in excess of $10,000 in DRP payments for the same damages I incurred.

So I ask: What’s the criteria for receiving DRP funds?

It seems very discriminatory, or at the very least random, which was reinforced through my calls and visits with DRP officials, who couldn’t answer my questions in any meaningful way, and who, on several occasions, seemed genuinely confused by the process.

They also told me more than once to turn to other social agencies such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Mennonite Central Committee or other organizations who are here to help those who need it.

Both my wife and I are in, or nearing, our eighties, and thankfully are well provided for through our pensions.

We felt asking for money from these groups was taking it away from those who genuinely need it.
Living in DRP Limbo
Living in DRP Limbo

This has been a life changing event for us. We went from starting retirement life in a brand new home to living in an RV in a friend’s barn for the last 13 months. We have just had to go in and apply for a mortgage, along with deplete our retirement savings, to purchase another home in High River to live in as winter is fast approaching again and we’re still in DRP limbo.

Trying to work with the DRP has been excruciating at best. In the last 15-plus months the DRP office has moved 5 times. Some of our paperwork was lost and we had to rush to reproduce it. We rarely got the same staffer twice, staff cycles through constantly, the staff were poorly trained and some “just didn’t get it.”

We have been asked to supply engineering reports, insurance documentation, receipts and countless estimates to repair/restore/demolish/rebuild. The documentation is then attached to our claim and sent north for review??? All of these estimates are now stale dated as the reviews apparently take months.

The builders/contractors are now telling us that we can add 20 to 30% to their original rebuild quotes. We watch as some of our neighbours, whose homes suffered the same or less damage than ours, get DRP rebuild funding and their homes are torn down. They get to move on.

It appears there is absolutely no consistency in the DRP decision making process. We have gotten some DRP funding, however no detailed explanation as to what these funds are for. The total amount to date is not anywhere close to what we need to repair/restore or team the house down and start a rebuild.

We have done everything that was asked of us by the GOA/DRP. We have met every deadline, supplied all documentation requested, we’ve been respectful and kept our cool, we’ve kept an open mind and tried to comply with all requests, we’ve opened up our home to continued inspections and testing.

We’ve tried to stay positive and we continue to wait – what more can we possibly do? Simply put, we have been left behind!
Just another Two Weeks…
Just Another Two Weeks…

We did receive an initial cheque from DRP.  

Since then we phoned sporadically to see how our file was progressing and have always been told it will be another 2-4 weeks.  

In January, I started keeping track of our phone calls and have record of 7 calls - all the time being told our file was stalled, in review, being recalculated,  reviewed etc.  

They keep telling us it will be another 2 - 4 weeks.  I haven't phoned since February 28 because I know what they'll say….'another 2-4 weeks'.   T

That's my main issue.  I feel like I'm getting the runaround and I don't have the energy to deal with it anymore. 
A Sinking Foundation
A Sinking Foundation

The DRP is saying my foundation is sound. I have contractors that build basements saying it isn’t sound and if I go ahead and repair the house as it is I will have a gradual sinking of the house.

I have sent these reports to the DRP but they keep saying the engineer report submitted to them shows the foundation is sound. I appealed and they say they will send in another engineer to check, then they say they aren’t. A couple weeks ago they said they are, but so far I haven’t heard anything back.

One letter I got back in April said these things wrong with the foundation were from seasonal soil movement, not from the flood. I have lived in the house 9 years and never had a door stick or any cracks in the wall, which there are now. How can they say the shifting of the house wasn’t caused due to the flood?

All I want right now is an engineer’s report on the foundation. I have a mortgage coming due next Wednesday and would like to know something by then.
Just Who Do I Talk To?
Just Who Do I Talk To?

Yesterday, Oct. 6, 2014, I received a voice mail from (a DRP official).
She asked me to call her. I called her this morning at 9 a.m., only to find out she only works Mondays and Fridays.

The person I was talking to had no idea why (the official) wanted to talk to me. I am writing this while in the parking lot of the DRP office.

I just wasted more time talking to the people in there, who also had no idea.

I did find out that there are 138 people ahead of me in the Review waiting list.

Considering that they received my Application for Review on April 14, I find it very difficult to believe that the latest B.S. of 60 days will happen.

Have they replaced 6 full-time people with 18 part-timers that work 2 days a week?

Just who do I talk to to get some answers?
“I’m Pushing Back”
“I’m Pushing Back”

I’m so tired of the DRP staff turning over every few months, which makes we have to start this process over and over again.

It’s a joke! It’s ridiculous! It’s not my fault that oil prices are $47 per barrel and the province does not have any money because they didn’t diversify the economy.

(A DRP employee) told me the mitigation work would be covered, in an email in June 2014. She did not tell me there was a deadline and even if there was, she knew the work was in progress and she could have sent me a message sometime in the last six months to give me a head’s up about an upcoming deadline.

I went over to the DRP office in High River, next to the temporary public library, on Dec. 23, 2014, to talk to someone about this, only to find out that the office had moved to another location and that they were taking two weeks of holidays and therefore would not reopen until the New Year.

I’m starting to think the DRP is worse than the insurance company. All they ever seem to do is say “No” but at least when the insurance company said that to me, I could go over their head and contact the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

I’m not going to get pushed around. I’m pushing back! How do you people sleep at night knowing that you are screwing over so many people?

So stick a crowbar in that government wallet and send me a few thousand dollars to cover the cost of the mitigation work that YOU suggested that I have completed and that YOU PROMISED would be covered by the Disaster Recovery Program.
A Serious Process Issue
A Serious Process Issue

I met with DRP in High River, and dropped off the receipts for the flood mitigation costs. Within a few days, Edmonton called me, advising they were missing a receipt.

Something is wrong with the mail system, if one receipt goes missing. I would suggest they put the entire package in a sealed envelope before forwarding to Edmonton. I saw a DRP representative staple the package together, and they advised they also keep a copy of everything they send to Edmonton now.

Why didn’t Edmonton just call High River DRP to get a copy of the missing receipt? Instead, they call me, which made me very upset, and left me wondering if they can’t receive mail properly, what are the chances my file will be handled effectively?

When you call DRP-Edmonton, they provide little to no information. It’s been reviewed, or it’s in finance.

Today I spoke with (a DRP official) in Edmonton. I am advised my file has been fully mitigated and it may take several weeks before a cheque is issued.

Seriously, people affected by the flood took measures to mitigate against future floods, and still have not received reimbursement.

DRP has a serious process issue. They need to revisit their controls, because this should be a straightforward process.

How can it take DRP over 6 months to process someone’s expense reimbursement?

I think this is absolutely ridiculous, and DRP needs to streamline the process; hire staff to deal with the backlog and get these files closed!
Done by December 2014 - That Didn’t Happen
Done by December 2014 - That Didn’t Happen

I’m at the end of my rope. The demo company is not happy with us and I have nothing as far as money to pay them since the government has not paid us for the house and we are now paying 2 mortgages.

After almost 19 months of being patient, I have no more patience. I am stuck with two mortgages. I am stressed to the nines on the cost per month we are paying because of promises made by the government back in November 2014.

It is unacceptable in the way the government cannot complete this last part of our file.

Government talks about closing out files by the end of December 2014. That didn’t happen. This is low hanging fruit and with this completed above, you have one more file closed out.

I’m told I will hear back on where the Finance Department is with the process of the house cheque and hear nothing when promised.

I’m tired of being put off every time I call and never a real answer.
“I Was Optimistic…. I Was Wrong.”
“I Was Optimistic… I Was Wrong.”

While our home was not as severely damaged as some, the flood damage required a complete rebuild of our finished basement area. Insurance coverage left us approximately $32,000 short of a full recovery to a basic standard.

In July 2013 I applied for assistance under the Alberta Disaster Recovery Program. Listening to the premier and other elected officials, I was optimistic that our government would look after us.

I was wrong. In my opinion, as soon as the media attention was gone so was the support from our government. My application for DRP assistance was denied after 8 months of stringing me along. I received a very short letter telling me that. No explanation, no information, no information on my right to appeal, just case closed. Unacceptable.

I can’t help but feel that due to the government’s pressure to wrap up the project and not renew contracts, a rush to judgement occurred and claims were not given the attention that was due.

As well, I am not comfortable appealing a DRP decision of ineligibility to the same department that denied the claim. Shouldn’t we have an unbiased third party deciding?
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Copyright 2016-17 High River Disaster Recovery Program Advocacy Committee