Practice Makes Permanent: Preparing for Extreme Weather Events

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November 1, 2022 - Ongoing shifts in climate patterns will likely continue to intensify the frequency and damage caused by extreme weather. Many of these primary and secondary incidents such as tornados, hail, wildfires, and flooding often come with minimal warning and result in expensive and dangerous operational disruptions.

As of mid-October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports there have been 15 weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each so far in the United States this year. These events included one drought event, one flooding event, ten severe storm events, two tropical cyclone events, and one wildfire event. Damages from Hurricane Ian (the deadliest hurricane to strike Florida since the 1935) has reached a staggering estimated $70 billion in damages thus far, but the total losses from that event alone will likely take years to fully realize.

Now, as another unpredictable and potentially volatile winter weather season is quickly approaching, even those located in usually warmer climates could be impacted by ice events, power outages, mud slides, severe storms, and record-breaking snow. All organizations, regardless of geographic location, need to change the way they have been traditionally developing and executing their emergency preparedness and continuity plans to prepare for these extreme climate-related hazards.

As the list of these historical events and affected areas continues to grow, organizations need to tailor their current business continuity plans to be better positioned to face a much more unpredictable future. (Business continuity planning is a proactive practice to support prevention and mitigation efforts as well as reduce overall operational impact from incidents; read Back to Basics: Business Continuity & Disruption Prevention.)

Existing infrastructures, basic safety measures, and business resiliency strategies, if not regularly revisited, will be ill-equipped to handle an environment with evolving risk. And while basic planning tools are an excellent resource, how they are incorporated into corporate plans should be regularly reassessed as the hazard environment continues to evolve. For instance, as climate change advances, current flood risk maps used to project insurance needs may underestimate the dangers in certain areas currently believed to be at lower risk, demanding organizations, even those located outside of flood zones, to now consider flooding as a potential hazard.

Implementing a hazards calendar into your operation’s risk assessment is a simple step any business can take to map out when extreme weather events generally occur to proactively assess future risks. However, it shouldn’t stop there.

There are other routine events that can be plotted, such as regulatory visits, certification renewals, and training events. This helps identify where there are conflicts and where there are overlaps. Adding those types of planned events on top of anticipated hazards can allow your entire workforce to visualize and plan for the higher levels of risk or a higher level of impact.

Preparedness is not something that can happen in a vacuum; everyone at all levels in the organization should engage in that process. Essentially, we're not limiting the assessment to determining when a specific hazard such as a tornado is coming, but rather learning to anticipate a higher level of risk to your organization and what those disruptions may look like. As risks are collectively identified, practice drills and exercises responding to an incident should be executed. Exercises shouldn't be demonstrations; they should intentionally stress the system to identify gaps in the plan and response. Identifying gaps is important because practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

As an added benefit, developing a hazards calendar as part of your overall planning will also address your firm’s emergency management initiatives. Safety, security, and resiliency within your business, but also within your surrounding community, need to be considered. Extreme weather events are happening more frequently and in areas less accustomed to handle them. We must start considering the broader picture.

BSI’s Principal Consultant David Bernstein, along with Senior Consultant David Blacksberg and Senior Consultant Susan Zielan addressed this important topic during the recent webinar: New Extreme Weather Operational Risks: How to Effectively Assess, Mitigate and Plan Responses. Follow along with our Security & Resilience practice experts in the ongoing Business Continuity and Disruption Prevention Thought Leadership series: Back to Basics: Business Continuity & Disruption Prevention and Business Continuity and Disruption Prevention: Supply Chain Resilience.

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