In 2014, the UK experienced what was described as extensive flooding, and while the BCI’s Central Office wasn’t directly impacted, or at least water didn’t access the building, it did prove to be disruptive in terms of staff getting to work. Several employees were forced to work from home for a few days as the roads they would normally have taken to get to work were under water.
That winter a succession of storms hit the UK leading to record rainfall and flooding in many regions. The south-east was affected quite badly with many towns, particularly those along the River Thames, experiencing severe flooding. But it was the south-west that was worse hit as much of Somerset was underwater for over a month. December 2015 brought more bad weather to the UK when Storm Desmond hit the north-west causing widespread flooding and storm damage.
The Met Office in the UK claim that, by their very nature, extreme events like this are rare, but how rare are they exactly? The Met Office decided that a novel research method was needed to quantify the risk of extreme rainfall within the current climate, and came up with the UNprecedented Simulated Extremes using Ensembles (UNSEEN) method which has been used as part of the recent UK Government National Flood Resilience Review (NFRR)+ when the Met Office was asked to estimate the potential likelihood and severity of record-breaking rainfall over the UK for the next 10 years.
The good news is that we are now better able to predict the weather. The bad news is that the forecast isn’t very good. The research carried out by the Met Office found that, for England and Wales, there is a 1 in 3 chance of a new monthly rainfall record in at least one region each winter.
In the south-east there is a 7% risk of a monthly record extreme in any given winter during the next few years. Across the whole of England and Wales that risk rises to 34% chance of an extreme event happening in at least one of those regions each year. Furthermore, the research indicated that there was a 30% that these events could break existing records by up to 30%.
What does this mean for business continuity and resilience professionals? In the first instance it means that there’s a very good chance of an extreme weather event hitting somewhere in England and Wales, but where? The 2014 storms largely affected the south of country while the 2014 storms affected the north. So while one part of the country was badly affected, many other places were not.
How do business continuity and resilience professionals determine what level of investment is required to protect against the impact of such events? How do you balance the level of investment required with probability of the event occurring? Presumably similar discussions take place on the other side of the Atlantic. We know with a great deal of certainty that a hurricane will, in all likelihood, hit the eastern seaboard of the US each year, but where? Should you invest heavily when there is a very good chance that the severe weather won’t actually affect your region?
Of course the other argument is that organizations shouldn’t be preparing for specific events anyway and it doesn’t really matter whether a storm hits. What matters is that the organization has a plan in place to deal with loss of building, loss of IT, loss of staff etc, regardless of what the cause is.
What is for sure is that business continuity professionals should be using data like this to help inform their own horizon scanning process and get a get a clearer understanding of what their overall risk exposure is, which can then be incorporated into the development of their business continuity programme.
How does your organization prepare for such events and what tools do you use to assess the threat?
Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.
Executive Director of the Business Continuity Institute.