Extreme weather conditions including heat waves, droughts, floods, and hurricanes, are partly driven by climate change. In 2022, ten climate-related disasters caused more than $3 billion in damage each and have affected millions across the world. These included Hurricane Ian in the United States, drought in Europe and Brazil, floods and drought in China, and floods in Australia and Pakistan.
There were numerous other disasters that although were economically less costly, but still caused substantial challenges to people in the region. It is likely that this trend will continue in 2023. Crisis management plans that help address these hazards will no longer be confined to exercises and scenarios as it could be needed in real situations this year.
Organisations play a pivotal role in protecting the health and safety of their people. Reviewing and assessing their existing health, safety and environmental policies, plans and procedures should be carried out regularly to address and mitigate the current risks climate change can have on their people and business continuity.
Extreme weather conditions: an expanding threat to business operations
The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report advises that climate change will continue to increase the intensity and frequency of climate-sensitive hazards . The events are becoming longer, more intense and affect broader geographic regions. For example, between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves increased by around 125 million. Ahead of COP27, the World Health Organization warns, “The rise in global temperature that has already occurred is leading to extreme weather events that bring intense heatwaves and droughts, devastating floods and increasingly powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. The combination of these factors means the impact on human health is increasing and is likely to accelerate" .
The impacts of climate change will also heighten food insecurity and create greater competition over resources, driving up political, ethnic, and sectarian divides. The lack of resilience to extreme weather and perceived lack of action on the climate change crisis will also exacerbate political instability. It could manifest in social or political unrest and contribute to volatile security situations.
Climate change - "the biggest health threat facing humanity"
The Wellcome Trust provides an interactive tool of 120 years of health data mapped to climate change which highlights the depressing trend so far.
Floods, droughts, and earthquakes disrupts the access to necessities like safe water, adequate food, and secure shelter. With changing temperatures and weather patterns, vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and the numerous mosquito-transmitted viral encephalitides are expected to expand their geographic reach, impacting millions more than they do today.
In 2022, about a third of the world’s population is exposed to heat stress, and that is expected to reach around half to three-quarters over the next 80 years if rising temperatures are not slowed or arrested. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be a quarter of a million more human deaths each year related to climate change, from malnutrition, heat, diarrhea illnesses and malaria.
In addition to the physical impacts, climate change is also a growing source of mental health issues including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is the obvious immediate turmoil caused by sudden extreme weather conditions, such as earthquakes and hurricanes which could take years for communities to recover from these disasters.
Organisational preparedness to resilience
Extreme weather events, natural disasters and epidemics can drastically threaten business continuity. Whilst predictive tools are less than perfect, organisations should still arm themselves with access to accurate information to anticipate extreme weather events. Having access to these forecasts will allow for proactive decision-making and effective response plans should there be a need to evacuate employees in affected locations.
Our advice for organisations to protect their people and operations from the impact of climate change involves preparedness, risk mitigation and support:
- Assess the risks to your organisation. Be aware of the potential environmental and health threats in the locations you operate. This is not limited to the immediate vicinity of your office premise but also the routes your employees use to commute.
- Understand your workforce’s personal risk profile. Identify your vulnerable populations and assess the impact climate change can have on them. Educate them on the potential risks, how they are included in your plans of action, and the services in place to support them.
- Develop and exercise plans and procedures for extreme weather incidents such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. The plans should cover the roles and responsibilities of different functions, and the disaster preparedness, response, and recovery measures. The plan should also factor in communication and lost-communication procedures, potential disruption to essential services such as power, water, cash, logistics, and ensuring security of office and site premises in the event of deterioration in the security environment. Once in place, communicating it to your people and providing them with disaster safety and response training remain essential to ensure they react accordingly should an incident occur.
- Consider adapting the work environment. Look at your workplace practices – changing working hours and outdoor activities can reduce exposure to heat stress. Asses your building’s air handling to ensure optimal heating, cooling, and air exchange which can limit exposure to pollutants and minimise the risk of disease transmission.
- Plan evacuation methods and routes including stand-fast options and procedure. Multiple factors should be included in the evacuation planning and its decision-making process such as status of essential infrastructures, transportation options, security environment, number and profiles of evacuees and business continuity plans.
- Review stock of essential materials and equipment. Is there back up in place should there be a failure or shortage? Consider stockpiling for a short-term disruption whilst also reviewing the potential for longer-term disruption. Model the impact of a “worst-case” scenario.
- Educate your workforce on developing personal safety and evacuation plans and what to do in the event of a disaster. Encourage them to pack a “grab bag” with essential documentations and equipment.
- Maintain situational awareness through identification of accurate and reliable sources of information, and monitoring the latest information on disasters, the extent of disruption and availability of aid resources, keep track of local governments and NGO’s disaster relief information and updates on policies and regulations.
- Ensure you have tools in play to communicate with all your workforce, including your mobile workers.
- Understand disaster response plans and capabilities of national/local governments, NGOs and embassies.
- Identify key providers and resources within local communities that can provide support in the event of an incident – what local support is available? Which health and hospital facilities are nearby and what are their capabilities?
- Provide your workforce with adequate emotional support solutions. Whether to support anxiety or a post-disaster stress disorder, it is crucial that your people can access appropriate mental health professionals and emotional support to overcome their mental health challenges.
- Consider and review your corporate social responsibility (CSR) in line with your corporate missions. Corporations are expected to identify and register available assets to be used in disaster response such as donation and technical assistance as per their capability.
How International SOS can help
Access to dedicated experts, reliable and trustworthy information and proactive crisis management plans are some of the steps to ensure you take the most efficient and sustainable approach to extreme weather condition preparedness. Over the past 35 years, International SOS has been at the core of supporting organisations risk management plans. Our health and security experts are on hand to guide your organisation in understanding the impact on your organisation, assessing the risks impacting your workforce and then integrating these into your plans and procedures to ensure the best preparedness.