The U.N. predicts major trouble as early as 2040. The industry should prepare now.
This month, just before the second devastating hurricane in a month turned large swaths of the southeastern United States into splinters, the United Nations issued a dire report on how climate change is poised to reshape our world. That message should have hit home in the U.S., where Hurricane Michael carved a 200-mile wide path of destruction through the Florida panhandle and soaked portions of North Carolina, still reeling from Hurricane Florence.
Beyond improving response to natural disasters underway, there has not been much discussion among the security industry about planning for rapid changes predicted to take place by 2040. Be it wildfires in California, hurricanes in the Southeast or tornadoes in the Midwest, emergency services are looking to more generous budgeting and technology platforms to aid evacuation and rescue.
But residents and businesses continue to rebuild in areas vulnerable to climate change driven natural disasters, hoping that new and stronger fortifications will help mitigate risk. According to this story in the New York Times, FEMA has spent $81 billion since 1992 on rebuilding in the wake of natural disasters, often in the same place and without regard to future storms.
“The coasts are popular and will continue to be popular,” said Andres La Paz Larach, vice president of Southeast U.S. and Latin America for global risk solutions company Pinkerton. Likewise, development on the edge of some of the West’s most fire-prone area continues unabated. According to this story in High Country News, there were 12.5 million housing units in forested areas in 2000. By 2010 there were 44 million.
“We should be worried about that,” said Shawn McCoy, a research economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in High Country News. “The societal costs of wildfire will increase, because people continue to develop there. They know that those homes will sell regardless of the risk.”
La Paz Larach advises companies on how to mitigate their risks, first by helping them put a disaster plan and response team in place, then by assigning personnel to aid in evacuating personnel and guarding locations while storms rage.
As bad as this year’s hurricanes have been, they’re nowhere near as destructive as last year, when Pinkerton helped resorts and healthcare companies in Puerto Rico weather Hurricane Maria. “We had more than 300 agents on the ground, we were chartering planes to deliver food and fly out agents. It was very dynamic,” he said.
What more can be done beyond preparedness, evacuation, and rescue? Security personnel working with civil engineers and planners could improve infrastructure and mitigate loss. According to this story in Mother Jones, microgrids powered by solar panels are more reliable power sources after a storm. Having rooftop solar power hooked up to long-term battery storage would be particularly helpful for first responders in places often hit by hurricanes. And in the West, Forest Service surveys could help towns and fire departments identify where to build deflector walls and debris basis to keep fires at bay.
Even more revolutionary is managed retreat. The mayor of Imperial Beach, California is attempting to relocate his community three blocks inland, a project that sounds modest but will cost about $150 million, according to this story in The Bulletin of The Atomic Sciences. Understandably, not everyone is on board. “It’s not easy to get people to think about what’s going to happen in 100 years.”
Of course, natural disasters aren’t the only risks that come with climate change. There are looming mental health risks, water shortages, and the displacement and migration of large populations. In the end, it comes down to first responders and emergency planners to keep the peace when disasters occur. In the meantime, security professionals should have a voice in participating in finding solutions that could stave off the disasters that put their lives on the line.