Severe weather major incident threat

  • Severe weather events are becoming more common in the UK
  • These have the potential to trigger major incidents in the public sector
  • Councils need to ensure they have effective plans in place, that can be co-ordinated across services

The British are used to discussions about the weather. But there is a real danger that some organisations are not adequately prepared for severe weather events.

From floods to snowstorms and gales, extreme weather is becoming more common in the UK, bringing with it widespread disruption.

“Large scale major incidents are becoming more frequent because of climate change,” says Jennifer Cole, Research Fellow in Emergency Management at the Royal United Services Institute.

Climate change is placing pressure on the public sector to develop effective risk management to deal with these events and find ways to mitigate their risk and prevent losses – all at a time when councils are being forced to cut costs and streamline operations.

It’s also important to remember that the impact of extreme weather can be multiplied by ‘follow-on’ effects, as one crisis impacts on another – for example flash floods become more likely after a drought, as do fires.

Planning essential

In this environment, good planning and mitigation, co-ordinated across services, is essential. This is a challenge as councils move to outsource services, but not impossible. In fact, it may make them better placed to adapt.

“Increased connectivity can have benefits, complexity doesn’t necessarily increase risk, it can make organisations more adaptable,” says Jennifer.

“Budget cuts mean that there will be a much more focused and intelligent approach to emergency planning and preparation.”

But outsourcing services can also change the risk appetite. Contractors often do not have the same appetite for risk, or have risk management systems in place, which means they may take greater risks than public service providers.

Looking at services as a whole is the best way to construct an appropriate response and ensure all managers are having the right conversations with frontline staff and contractors to agree effective response plans.

Unknown risk

While weather events are a known risk, their nature, severity and geographical impact are unknown quantities, which can bring a complexity to the planning and ultimately the implementation process.

Gareth Ellis, UK Incident and Large Loss Portfolio manager at Zurich Insurance, says that Zurich Municipal can help customers build and test robust plans.

“From a claims perspective we have specialised teams that will work directly with our customers at their time of need to aid the recovery process, “ he says.

“The earlier your insurer is engaged in the process, the quicker they can support in identifying and implementing solutions, so make sure they are included as contact points in all incident plans to allow them to assist at an early stage.”

Across the board, stakeholders are ready to have these discussions – and there has never been a better time to start talking about the weather.