We’ve all seen those Hollywood depictions of weather disasters; Twister, Into the Storm and The Day After Tomorrow conjuring up terrifying images of a world in crisis. Those of us old enough to recall the heat waves of 1977 will remember the ten days of ‘brown outs’, power outages and service issues especially in New York City as temperatures averaged 97.1 degrees and at their peak hit record highs of 106. Fast forward to 2021 and we are seeing such temperatures exceeded in areas once thought to be temperate. Portland, Vancouver and portions of Canada that had never seen such heat are recording record numbers of deaths attributed to extreme temperatures. In some notably hot and arid states like Arizona and Nevada reptiles are seeking refuge in homes and wildlife are perishing. In Florida the sea levels are a full eight inches higher than in 1950 with the speed of rise accelerating dramatically in the past ten years. The global temperatures have increased by an average of .78 degrees Centigrade versus the average in the 1920s. Our infrastructure is certainly better than in 1977 but the strain that accelerated climate change is bringing today is testing the limits of our systems.

Having lived in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest for many years I can say that I was a ‘denier’ thinking that weather anomalies were just that. Winters in Minnesota and Wisconsin (where your car needs an engine block heater) don’t really lend themselves to having one bother to consider such a thing as climate change. Still don’t believe it?  A brief look at the arctic ice area will show you that the loss today exceeds 12.8 percent compared to the historic average and this in turn contributes to rises in sea levels and creates a national defense issue. Unfortunately, reality is slapping the earth in the face and we need to take action now. As hurricanes increase in number and intensity, sea levels rise and encroach on coastal cities and heat indexes reach record highs we will undoubtedly see impacts to our businesses, employees, clients and our lives as we know them. So the salient question is:

What is your organization doing to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change? 

Although so many companies and organizations are getting on board the sustainability train to minimize their emissions, they are not doing much to plan for and mitigate for impacts from a security perspective. Reducing carbon emissions and finding alternatives to fossil fuels is great but we are already in the midst of a calamity and in many countries the impact is palpable. There is quite a bit of talk, a lot of marketing and good intentions. Unfortunately, all that does little to actually prepare for what seems to be a looming crisis. This is where we, as security practitioners, must get engaged and now. From a business continuity standpoint, you need to consider what excessive heat, drought or other weather impacts may bring. Security leaders should seek to prepare a climate/environmental emergency playbook for their organization that addresses potential impacts and mitigation measures. 

A few to consider:

Another point to consider is the effect of mass migration due to climate issues. Extreme weather has historically caused such migrations as exemplified by the great “Dust Bowl” migration from the U.S. Plain states to California in the late 1930s. Such migrations can have a significant impact on public safety and security especially if resources are already scarce. If your facilities are in areas prone to heavy influx of people you will need to determine if there will be a security strain or impact.

Security should always strive to be proactive vice reactive and it is well within our purview to consider climate change with respect to physical security and protective measures. It is imperative that we have plans and procedures in place that are actionable and tested. Consider a tabletop exercise including your key stakeholders; facilities managers, infrastructure specialists and maintenance staff can get you started but you must have some sort of full spectrum crisis management exercise that includes stress testing of your security measures, evacuation and support infrastructure.   Additionally, you should ensure that you train and prepare force multipliers in the form of security and safety supporters- floor wardens, first aiders, and emergency assistance personnel. Providing special incentives such as a hosted lunch or recognition day, paid time off/comp day or small perks can aid in recruiting and retaining people to assist and if training is made to be fun and meaningful you will have them clamoring. These will be a huge benefit during any emergency in that once trained, tested and confident, these folks will be there to assist in marshaling and orienting. 

Although we should not be overly alarming and are not quite facing an Irwin Allen style disaster, we should recognize that extreme weather and climate change is not going away. No matter how much we may hope, wish or pray, these situations are our reality, they are getting more frequent and more intense. Security managers and practitioners should lead from the front on this. Getting early footing and preparing for these crises is the only way we’ll get through them in a reasonable and safe manner.  

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