Millions of Canadians took to the streets this past week in a ‘strike’ to protest and raise awareness around climate change. Some retailers—in particular those espousing environmentally-conscious values and business models—even closed their stores for a day in support. It’s reasonable to assume that at least a handful of those placard-carrying, green-minded citizens are concerned about the spillover security implications of warming temperatures and rising waters, such as the mass migration of people due to extreme weather events. What they probably don’t realize is just how close to home those impacts could be. It’s a cautionary note that commercial property owners and managers would be wise to heed, as well.
Because climate change is a concern for everyone, even those in the business community whose organizations are unlikely to be directly impacted by the planet’s fast-changing weather patterns.
Consider the torrential downpour last year that inundated much of Toronto’s downtown core. The deluge was so swift that two men became trapped in a basement elevator at their workplace.
Water flooded into the basement after they boarded the lift (which, unbeknownst to them, was out of service) and quickly rose to more than six feet. The men had only minutes to spare before the water level in the elevator cleared their heads. They were soon rescued by police who swam to the basement and used a crowbar to pry open a passage large enough for them to escape. No one was seriously injured in the incident.
Extreme weather events are the new norm
While this was an unusually dire situation—it’s not every day that someone almost drowns in an elevator—Canadians should be prepared to manage the side-effects of increasingly severe weather. In fact, political leaders are already beginning to prepare us for the potential challenges that lie ahead. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted in a speech earlier this year after major flooding ravaged parts of Quebec:
“ … with climate change, we’re going to see more and more of these extreme weather events more regularly. It means we have to think about adaptation, mitigation and how we’re going to move forward together.”
That means we can expect more intense rain, snow, wind and ice than ever before. In his comments, the PM was merely echoing findings of Canada’s Changing Climate Report released earlier this year. It issued several dire warnings, including that:
“A warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes in the future. Extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks. While inland flooding results from multiple factors, more intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks. It is uncertain how warmer temperatures and smaller snow packs will combine to affect the frequency and magnitude of snowmelt-related flooding.”
Climate change-related risks and security challenges
Unpredictable weather creates a variety of risks, legal liabilities and security exposures for organizations. While not all will be life-threatening, many will apply pressure to already strained balance sheets. Indeed, some of those risks will be more benign, yet no less costly or disruptive to manage.
We’re aware of companies that have watched helplessly as large amounts of inventory or critical IT infrastructure such as computer servers, became submerged under water in a matter of minutes as a result of historically heavy rainfalls. The ensuing business interruption cost them time, money and, in some cases, even goodwill with customers as they scrambled to recover data or deliver goods and services as promised. Others have seen their offices or manufacturing facilities damaged by high winds.
While not a realistic concern in the Greater Toronto Area, extreme heat can spark infernos that can impair regular commerce—think of the fires that raged across the Prairies in recent summers, prompting widespread evacuations in cities such as Fort McMurray.
Security’s role in addressing climate-related incidents
At some point during any climate-related incident, your security team will likely be called upon to help manage the situation. That could be to protect a damaged facility as it awaits repair and to ensure that no one enters the premises if conditions are unsafe; or to help muster employees if the issue happens to be particularly dangerous and relocation to a secure site becomes necessary. This is precisely why organizations need to be equipped with effective emergency preparedness disaster response plans.
Perhaps most importantly, they need to work with their internal security teams or third-party security providers to conduct a comprehensive assessment that analyzes absolutely every potential weather-related risk exposure. Doing so will not only help protect your bottom line and mitigate the threat of lawsuits or brand damage for a botched incident response, but could also save lives.
Employees must be trained to respond to an emergency, particularly if your business happens to be situated in an area prone to major weather events. And if not, you still need to be ready to adapt as climate patterns continue to shift. Even a seemingly pleasant heat wave—while great for patio and beach season—can put a damper on everything from morale to productivity if it’s particularly intense or sustained. Skyrocketing temperatures can quickly produce health-related challenges (think sun stroke or heat exhaustion) to which your security team might be the first to respond.
In doing so, they need to be ready to act. In fact, we all do, because climate change is an unfortunate fact of life that we’ll need to manage in the years ahead. It’s only by adapting—and taking a security-first approach—that we can proactively mitigate its many risks.
Winston Stewart, President and CEO