As the climate changes, many environmental factors come to the fore as a risk for businesses. The Committee on Climate Change has identified the greatest threats for the UK as large increases in flood risk, greater likelihood of exposure to high temperatures and heatwaves, water shortages, loss and detriment to wildlife and natural ecosystems, risks to domestic and international food production and trade, and risks from new and emerging pests and diseases.
The floods that many experienced this past summer are a reminder of the devastating consequences of climate change. Significant destruction of property and loss of life was a factor in what transpired in Germany, China and Belgium, for example. The UK has experienced flash flooding on a lesser scale, but still with horrific impacts on home and business owners. It is a stark warning of what could be to come.
I have been involved in flood risk since my own home flooded 14 years ago, and have seen many floods. Unless things change, flooding and its impacts will become more frequent and extreme.
When businesses are looking to mitigate risk, flood risk must be high on the agenda. Around 40% of businesses do not reopen after suffering a catastrophic loss due to flooding. Some businesses never recover simply because they do not have suitable contingency plans in place.
The impacts of flooding on a business can be both direct and indirect.
Direct consequences could include the business premises being flooded, leaving it out of action for weeks or months – especially if machinery is damaged.
Even where a business premises is shown to be at ‘very low’ flood risk that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily in the clear. A business may be at risk indirectly. This could include supply chain partners being affected by flooding, or a staff member’s home being flooded, or even travel disruption due to extreme weather.
To be best prepared, businesses should take stock of their current operating procedures and premises. Many firms do not have basic property information to hand, such
as a drainage plan. Without knowing where the drains run, a blockage could remain unidentified or unresolved for a lengthy period of time, potentially causing unnecessary flooding.
My top three recommendations:
1. Know your flood risk. Whilst government flood maps do not provide the exact level of risk at a property, they provide a good indication of what is likely. You can still be at risk of flooding even if you’re nowhere near a river!
2. Implement a business continuity plan. Consider all aspects within this. If your premises are at flood risk, consider where you would work if the premises were flooded, and consider what impact flooding could have on your supply chain and how you might react to this.
3. Resilience. Work with a flood risk consultant to establish whether the risk can be mitigated.
Flooding can cause huge disruption and damage, but by being prepared, the risk can be vastly reduced, and disruption managed. Historically, Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire has flooded regularly, with unhappy consequences. Many businesses along the High Street have taken action to be better prepared, with some able to mop up and reopen the very next day, as opposed to being closed for months. This has been achieved through careful risk reduction using property flood resilience measures such as installing flood barriers and water pumps, whilst also ensuring the resilience of internal fixtures and fittings such as waterproof flooring.
And in terms of minimising the impact beyond one’s own premises, other helpful possibilities include installing rainwater harvesting systems at your offices to assist with reducing water scarcity and reducing flood risk by limiting the water that enters the sewer network.