The changing incident landscape 2016 and beyond

Blog post   •   Jan 08, 2016 16:26 GMT

There have been a several incidents in the UK over Christmas and New Year which point towards changes in the incident landscape and new challenges for business continuity people. I think these changes are going to affect us in 2016 and for several years to come.

The incidents continue. As I listened to the news this morning, an inhabitant of Inverurie, Aberdeenshire was being interviewed on Radio Scotland. He, his girlfriend and their dog had been evacuated out of his house last night and had slept on a hotel floor. He was awaiting daylight to go back to his house to review the damage.

So what are the new challenges we are going to face in 2016?

1. Flooding

In parts of the UK, December brought the highest levels of rainfall ever, and in January some parts have had record levels of rainfall and there are still three weeks of the month to go. More and more often the high levels of rain are being put down to climate change. As the earth gets warmer the rain clouds can carry more and therefore when it rains a greater amount is delivered and this can lead to flash floods. The sheer volume of rain can affect places which are not in flood plains. A number of houses half way up hills local to us were flooded due to the rain coming off the slopes above their houses. We need to be ready for more rain which could cause floods in places which perhaps haven’t flooded in the past.

2. Loss of critical transport infrastructure

In December the Forth Road Bridge was closed due to a crack in one of the bridge supports. It is a vital link between Edinburgh and Fife and carries a large amount of freight and commuters. Whilst at Edinburgh airport on a Sunday afternoon, I overheard a conversation between staff, where one colleague was saying she had taken four hours to complete a 30-minute journey and turned up at work 2 hours late. The current floods in Cumbria have caused the loss of a railway bridge on the main line between Scotland and the North of England. The floods elsewhere have caused landslides blocking roads, roads have been washed away and many bridges damaged. All of these events will have a major impact on the ability of businesses to move goods and get their staff into work. Loss of a major bridge may not cut off an area but the traffic chaos it causes is the issue, and you should consider putting plans in place for loss of a major bridge, train line or airport.

3. Widespread loss of power

One of the side effects of flooding is widespread loss of power. This occurred across the North of England as substations became flooded. Although the power was not off for several days, it took several hours and in a few cases, days to get it back on. Climate change will lead to more intense weather which will undoubtedly lead to more power cuts due to either high winds or flooding

4. Review your resilience assumptions

As you go through your business continuity lifecycle you identify areas where you can increase your resilience. At the same time the Government has been trying to increase the resilience of communities by putting in place flood defences. In many cases these defences are not enough and have been breached. People and businesses who thought they were protected were not. In light of the Christmas incidents I think we should all revisit our resilience assumptions and check whether further measures need implementing.

5. Innovative solutions on old problems

One of the issues with flooding is that the location where it occurs seems to change, so we protect one area but the issues move to another area. There is a limited amount of money to be spent on flood defences so not everywhere can be protected. The flood defences of Pickering are a good example of how to look at protecting the town from floods by taking a different approach. Pickering has had a long history of flooding and whilst a flood alleviation scheme has been proposed in recent years, it is too low a priority in terms of cost-benefit to be considered for approval. The town is particularly at risk from summer flash floods due to the steep nature of the catchment. Instead of putting up flood defences they have made changes to the local heath land so that water does not run off so fast and cause flooding. While other areas have flooded, Pickering has not. This is an example of how we need to look at different approaches to improve the resilience of our organisations.

To be successful in our business continuity role we have to constantly look at how the incident landscape is changing and adapt our plans and resilience measures to new threats.

So to sum up, some of the actions you may want to consider in the New Year are as follows:

  • Review again your vulnerability to flooding.
  • Review your vulnerability and put plans in place for loss of critical transport infrastructure.
  • Review plans for loss of power.
  • Review again your resilience assumptions.
  • Look at new and innovative solutions to old problems.

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute, Director at PlanB Consulting and Director of Training at Business Continuity Training.