We would like to thank Community Impact Bucks for inviting us to a Community Resilience evening at the Oasis Centre way back in early February. It was an interesting evening with speakers presenting on Chinnor’s emergency planning strategy for the flu pandemic and Chesham Action volunteers presenting on their heavy snow strategy. However I left the meeting troubled.
The troubling aspect was in relation to just how well thought-out and thorough the flu-pandemic plan was. I took my hat off to those organisers. They had done a really good job; but just how likely is such a pandemic? It seemed the elephant in the room that everyone was too polite to ask. Certainly we all felt that the Chinnor team had done excellent work and nothing should be taken away from it. But was it an emergency really worth planning for? What is the risk? Could such a great plan be adapted to tackle something MORE likely?
Now when I ask these questions I have to really face the facts that most people don’t care. Indeed most people don’t care about energy security and few give a flying fish for climate change. We are all too busy to worry too much about what MIGHT happen. We have our lives to lead and they are full of mortgage and job worries. Why spare the time for something that might never happen? However the folks doing the flu plan DO CARE. So clearly there is a PERCEPTION of risk. Where does this perception come from?
Compare the flu pandemic risk to the Chesham Action volunteers bad weather pan. Certainly Chesham is very likely to be hit by snow most years. It is very likely yet it probably isn’t that expensive. After a few days everything returns to normal. A flu pandemic is less likely but far more expensive.
The World Economic Forum did an assessment in 2011 and created its “Global Risks” chart. I will be using this in a PowerPoint presentation during a talk to the High Wycombe Society on July 6th this year. So here is a sneak preview. I have reproduced that PowerPoint slide here. The graph has “Perceived Impact” of a risk on the vertical axis delimited in Billion US$. On the horizontal axis there is “Perceived likelihood to occur in the next ten years”. On this the flu pandemic is classed as an “Infectious Disease” and sits right in the middle of the graph. Anything to the right of it is MORE LIKELY. Anything ABOVE is MORE EXPENSIVE. So anything above it and to the right is the stuff that should be more important to us.
Let us look at one test case: Terrorism. It is much further to the right so is MORE likely. However it is also much lower than “Infectious disease” hence costs less. This makes a lot of sense. Our fear of Terrorism far outweighs its cost impact upon our society.
So what us REALLY sitting up there to the right? Well, let us list some of them: Food Security, Water Security. Biodiversity loss, Flooding, Storms and Cyclones to name but a few. The four biggest hitters are “Extreme energy price volatility”, “Fiscal crises”, “Climate Change” and “Economic disparity”. Now THESE are areas that Community volunteers and Local Government can do something about.
Too often these days we abuse the term “resilience” simply to mean “emergency planning”. This assumes that everything returns to normal after some problem occurs. However true resilience comes from changing our operating system to cope with longer term changes. This requires we make an objective assessment of the risks & costs. Certainly energy price volatility and climate change will not be simply overcome with a few sandbags and tinned food. You will need to be able to grow your own food and generate more of your own energy LOCALLY. There is no alternative.
In short; we may actually have to change the very way we are doing business in High Wycombe & surrounding areas. That starts with a realistic assessment of what ACTUALLY is about to happen to us. That isn’t a mystery. We do KNOW. Look at the graph again. It isn’t looking 100 years into the future.
…just ten years….