Storm clouds ahead

Mel Gedruj
Tuesday October 03, 2017
Written by Mel Gedruj
In 1990, during the first Bush administration, the Naval War College’s Terry Kelley published a paper titled “Global Climate Change, Implications for the U.S. Navy.”

It was released in its entirety through a FOIA request 23 years later.

In it, Kelley describes the challenges facing the navy with the rise in ocean levels and the uncertainty it exposed the organization to, considering all the coastal real estate assets they own.

Both the U.S. and Canadian defence establishments have identified climate change as a national security issue.

Whether climate change is man-made or part of a long-term cyclical phenomenon, it is an issue hotly debated by politically opposed groups. Some are attempting to influence policy while others are intent on blocking any intervention.

For security practitioners, what is at issue is the impact of these recurring, often hard to predict extreme weather events. They constitute an environmental threat that requires leadership. Analyzing previous disasters, planning adequate preparedness and response as well as crafting an adequate future security policy should be the order of the day.

The human psychological response to traumatic, life-threatening events is known to be one that leads to acute stress. When combined with very disruptive situations where water and food are in short supply, it could stretch civil order to the brink of collapse.

Extreme weather events faced by cities, although infrequent, are on a scale that defies imagination, yet local governments are expected to make all the necessary arrangements to prepare their citizens, their own administration and their first responders; have shelters organized to provide temporary accommodation; and provide clean water — basically all the services a municipality supplies on a daily basis. Already, under “normal” circumstances, fiscal reality limits choices.

This is the type of problem that would greatly benefit from a resilience approach. To remind us of the continuum that was described in an earlier column (January 2016 issue), the security-emergency (preparedness-response) continuity would need to be organized and managed very effectively not only at the municipal level but at the higher levels of governments based on the contribution each level is able to provide in an emergency and its aftermath.

Throughout the emergency, security has to be interwoven with all activities designed to mitigate the impact. For instance, consider the devastation that Hurricane Harvey (August 2017) caused when it swept Texas’ coastal cities. First responders, including police, were working around the clock to help with evacuation. When law enforcement departments are busy assisting civilians, who will keep law and order? The fear of running out of food supplies or fuel may lead to disorder, including rioting and looting. Even when evacuation calls are made, traffic may lead to road rage as vehicles fill up the highways leading to safer locales.

In these instances, it is not unusual to call in the military to assist in keeping law and order. I witnessed this very situation in Baltimore, in the spring of 2015, during the riots — the National Guard was called in to secure the city, as local law enforcement were overwhelmed.

The acknowledged risks of climate change are multidimensional, requiring a policy framework that layers local, regional, national and global concerns. In 2010, Canada witnessed extreme events varying from Hurricane Igor to forest fires in British Columbia to the costliest hailstorm in Alberta’s history ($400 million).

There is no doubt that insurers are painfully aware of what is at stake.

A municipal centric approach can assist in providing a framework where resilience in critical infrastructure will both reduce the consequential impact and speed up recovery.

Mel Gedruj, OAA, CSPM is the president of V2PM Inc., specialized in municipal security management planning.

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