The changing climate is affecting the day-to-day operations of industrial businesses, with the risk of downtime being much higher than anticipated, says Suez Industrial Water’s Nicholas Simpson.
As floods and other severe weather incidents have caused extensive disruption to UK businesses and communities in recent years, there is growing recognition that long-established assessment approaches may underestimate the risks associated with weather and climate.
In part, that’s because the weather is changing, but it is also because risk assessment approaches based on comparatively small historical data sets may misjudge both the frequency and severity of exceptional events.
In its latest National Flood Resilience Review, published in September 2016, the UK Government has augmented historical rainfall records with advanced computer models developed by the Met Office.
The Government report identifies more than 500 key UK infrastructure sites that are not currently defended against flood levels predicted under its revised scenarios
These models simulated more than 11,000 months of likely future rainfall to come up with a new assessment of plausible extreme rainfall scenarios.
The report identifies more than 500 key UK infrastructure sites that are not currently defended against flood levels predicted under its revised scenarios.
Since the report only looked at infrastructure close to large population centres, did not consider surface water flooding, and ignored many types of industrial sites, the actual number of vulnerable facilities is likely to be much higher.
It is important to recognise that the direct flooding of facilities isn’t the only risk associated with exceptional rainfall. High tides in coastal areas or river flooding can contaminate aquifers and freshwater supplies (for example, affecting the quality of water entering treatment processes).
Appropriate contingency planning and risk management should be an ongoing part of business continuity planning for every organisation
Suez, as an industrial operations and maintenance company operating some of the largest industrial water and wastewater facilities in the UK, has experienced an increasing number of climate-change impacts on operations over the past four to five years.
That experience has given us insight into the varied impact of climate change, and on strategies that can manage and mitigate that impact:
- The ability to make use of modular or mobile water treatment systems gives companies maximum flexibility at minimum cost. The ability to flex and respond to water quality changes means that the risk to production is managed appropriately.
- For wastewater plants, significant rainfall can result in environmental breaches. Divert tanks and additional water storage allow the industrial site to manage these events, blending the excess water into effluent over an extended period to manage discharge volumes.
- Another potential impact of flooding is that employees may not be able to get to work. Remote control and remote monitoring of systems allows water and wastewater operations to continue in the absence of staff, further mitigating disruption risks.
- Many effluent plants are designed to let gravity do most of the work and are situated in low-lying areas prone to flooding. Most equipment is not designed to work underwater. Raising the height of critical pumps and controls can reduce the likelihood of this occurring.
- Flooding may also cause disruption to power generation and distribution infrastructure, reinforcing the need for on-site backup sources of supply.
Appropriate contingency planning and risk management should be an ongoing part of business continuity planning for every organisation.
To learn more, watch our new video series or download Suez’s free guide to adaptation, innovation and resilience in response to climate change (for more information, click here).
- Nicholas Simpson is marketing director at Suez Industrial Water Ltd.