Successful Climate Adaptation Goes Beyond Early Warning Systems
Holistically Addressing Risk Reduction
By Lorenzo Marchetti, Senior Specialist Government & Public Affairs, Everbridge
Michael Szönyi, Flood Resilience Program Lead, Zurich Insurance Company
“Everbridge is honored to partner again with the World Climate Foundation by attending this year's World Climate Summit and to help address the urgent challenge of the climate crisis. In addition to setting our own strong environmental commitments, we at Everbridge are committed to combining technology and expertise to help keep people around the globe safe and informed amid human-made and natural disasters, including those accelerated by climate change. We believe that the World Climate Summit provides us the opportunity to forge partnerships and collaborations that will help us pursue global climate goals.”
- Lorenzo Marchetti, Senior Specialist Government & Public Affairs, Everbridge
At World Climate Summit 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Dominic Jones, SVP of Business Development, Partners & Alliances, Everbridge, will participate in the Investment Session 'Mobilising Finance for Adaptation - Harnessing Untapped Potential' on 13 November.
Michael Szönyi, Flood Resilience Program Lead, Zurich Insurance will contribute to the Investment Session “Insuring for Resilience - Moving Beyond Traditional Risk Management and Response to Insure for Resilience” on 14 November.
As our world increasingly faces catastrophic disasters because of climate change, it is more important than ever to find ways in which to reduce impact from and adapt to climate-related risks. The WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas stated: “Besides very critical mitigation, it is increasingly important to invest in climate adaptation. One of the highest returns of investments is reached by improving the weather, water, and climate early warning services and related observing infrastructures.”
Today, successful Disaster Risk Reduction efforts should work to bring together both mitigation and adaptation strategies. By holistically addressing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), beyond sole reliance on current Early Warning Systems (EWS), governments, organisations, and enterprises can better commit to reducing the loss of human life and financial assets due to climate-induced events such as floods, wildfires and heatwaves.
Below, we will explore the current challenges surrounding Early Warning Systems and propose five main solutions that would improve EWS and cumulatively work to address Disaster Risk Reduction more holistically. Additionally, we believe those involved in the DRR process must be expanded to include not only government bodies, but private sector organisations as well as insurance agencies. The union of these entities has the potential to further strengthen DRR efforts and build more successful climate adaptation practices for the future.
Challenges with Current Early Warning Systems
Increasing the efficacy of Early Warning Systems is the first step in improving overall Disaster Risk Reduction. To do this, addressing some of the challenges most EWS currently face is necessary.
Lack of Public Risk Awareness and Best Practices
Due to general complacency and a lack employing best practices, early warnings and alerts are not always as effective as they could be. In many cases, even when early warning notifications are sent out, people do not heed the messages, or they attempt to flee from an imminent disaster when it is already too late.
This misunderstanding and lack of proper action occurs because oftentimes early warnings are not targeted enough and recipients lack adequate risk understanding; warnings are sent to entire distribution lists versus only the affected individuals, resulting in alert fatigue and an increased potential to ignore future alerts. Additionally, the content within messages may not properly convey the magnitude of risk to an individual, hindering the recipient’s ability to understand what action to take.
For example, during the devastating cyclone Idai (ISET, 2020), all three affected countries used EWS to identify the imminent danger and transmit warnings to their respective communities. However, these warnings failed to incite the necessary action as they used technical language of windspeeds rather than describing the danger to one’s assets, livelihoods, and personal safety. Additionally, some alerts were sent using a non-localized language, which was unintelligible to the recipient.
Underutilization and Misuse of Technology
EWS have the potential to be multi-channel and as far-reaching as necessary to alert the population. Unfortunately, these systems are not always used to their full potential. To increase the efficacy of EWS, all possible channels and alert methods should be utilized to ensure the greatest chance of reaching people and inciting appropriate actions.
Hazards are often underestimated because of inaccurate measurement and monitoring. For example, flood hazard and risk maps were inadequate to capture the 2021 Western Europe floods from the weather system “Bernd” (Zurich Insurance, 2022). The maps used were based on a short instrumental measurement record that did not accurately capture previous floods. Stationarity and homogeneity in the flood record data should not be assumed and need to be challenged under current climate change. Using updated predictive technologies coupled with increased low-tech in-situ measurements can help governments more accurately anticipate and understand the level of risk present in their communities.
Lack of Uniform Standards and Regulations
Governments, organisations, and enterprises do not currently have standards and regulations to follow when using EWS. Creating these standards is crucial for ensuring that EWS reach their maximum potential and improve overall DDR. For instance, a lack of protocol, regulations, and timely and effective messaging from the German government led to many unnecessary deaths in the floods of summer 2021. EWS are proven to save lives, but the lack of current standards and regulations means not all communities are equally benefiting from this life-saving technology.
Addressing the above challenges will help lead to more functional and effective EWS. Without a fully operational and optimized EWS, a government’s Disaster Risk Reduction efforts would be severely limited as EWS significantly contribute to each stage of the DRR cycle.
Five Stages of the Disaster Risk Reduction Cycle
Investing in prevention and DRR, beyond the humanitarian benefits, has a consistently proven high benefit-cost ratio ranging from 5:1 up to 10:1. Furthermore, synergies between mitigation and adaptation strategies should be better explored as measures and technologies exist that simultaneously benefit both climate approaches. Increasingly, it is important to invest early in DRR and not just react or respond to disasters. The five stages of an optimal DRR cycle are as follows:
Corrective Risk Reduction occurs before the existence of an event and aims to reduce any present risk. Ideally, agencies would take proactive measures such as implementing monitoring capabilities, as well as hazard and risk mapping, to better anticipate how a severe weather event may affect certain areas. Based on the risk data, individuals would then be able to take preventative action such as protecting existing buildings that are more prone to flooding.
Preparedness defines the precautionary actions taken immediately prior to a hazard event, including the activation of Early Warning Systems disseminating targeted and specific advice to affected communities driving the desired protective action such as, sheltering in place or evacuation.
Response includes the actions taken during and immediately after the hazard event to mitigate or contain disaster impacts, including evacuation procedures and the dispatching of search and rescue teams.
Recovery and Reconstruction are the actions taken after the event to help rectify disaster impacts, reconstruct damaged systems, and restore services.
Prospective Risk Reduction is any action taken to avoid the creation of new risk, including building regulations and land use planning that avoids the new construction of assets in hazardous places. Monitoring capabilities as well as hazard and risk mapping are also key to the success of this step.
Early Warning Systems (EWS) are a critical component of climate adaptation strategies and, as indicated above in the DRR cycle, are so systemic in nature that their elements play a critical role in almost every step of the disaster risk reduction cycle. Governments, organisations, and enterprises can improve their effectiveness and the overall protection of people and assets by effectively integrating EWS into Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) efforts in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
This would necessitate coupling a technically sound EWS with adequate hazard and risk mapping, improved forecasting, raised awareness on how and when to practically take protective action, and better practices, standards, and regulations.
Solutions to Improve EWS and Strengthen Overall Disaster Risk Reduction Efforts
In order to ensure EWS are more effective within the DRR framework:
1. The first step is to increase public awareness and adoption of appropriate behaviors when receiving an early warning message.
In addition to governments and organisations, this is an opportunity for the insurance industry to play a role in DRR by helping to educate the public about hazards, risks, and adequate protective actions they can take. For example, insurance companies can provide targeted information on what specific steps customers can take in the event they receive a notification alerting them of an imminent disaster as part of their insurance distribution and risk management processes.
Raising awareness among the public goes beyond the traditional role of just catering to the insured through a premium-for-policy model. It would be in the best interest of insurance companies to support the best channeling and education on understanding EWS messages and the actions the policy holders and their families or employees can take. This applies both to commercial/retail as well as private insurance and beyond by supporting public awareness campaigns and supporting primary, secondary, and higher education.
Chris Nicoll of the University of Auckland explains in the article “Preparing for the flood: Insurers factor in our morally hazardous behaviour” that “it seems prudent for both insurers and any future government pool to share the latest ideas and technology about the best and most efficient ways to reduce risk...This knowledge should inform every insurance proposal.”
2. A second step to better integrate EWS into a comprehensive DRR process is to improve overall hazard and risk mapping. EWS, and consequently DRR, would benefit from establishing a robust evidence base through the collection of data on current risk trends and projected hazards. This is crucial to disaster risk assessment, financing and management.
There is also an opportunity to learn from each other and use low-cost, open-source technologies to improve monitoring coverage, and therefore the reach of EWS. For example, learning from the program implementation of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance indicates that solutions that work in development contexts, such as Peru, can also be used in developed countries to close measurement and monitoring gaps. The information base requires (sub)national, regional, and global databases capable of pooling data from diverse sources. Tech and insurance companies have powerful means they can use to enhance data collection and analysis that in turn would create high-precision multi-hazard risk mapping. It is not the possession of data, but the capability of assessing the data that provides the competitive advantage, and as such, firms as well as the public sector should be more open to sharing risk-relevant data transparently. 2. The third step is to include improved corrective risk reduction and prospective risk reduction approaches to DRR. While we know that EWS are effective and save lives, it is paramount to avoid reaching a stage where physical protection is no longer feasible and evacuation becomes the last resort. We know from the debate about losses and damages that there are limits to adaptation that will be reached, but we can still bend the curve and minimise and avert them—we have not yet exhausted what is possible within the adaptation realm.
There are important initiatives underway that are supported by the insurance industry, including making infrastructures more adaptable to future climate scenarios using new building materials as well as new construction technologies should they be exposed to climate-related hazards now or in the future. More importantly, we need stricter zoning laws and urban planning tools to avoid locations that are risky in current and future hazard zones, linking back to the earlier imperative to have high quality hazard and risk mapping. Insurance pricing and availability trends all show us there are limits to insurability and affordability if risk portfolios are not adequately managed — a skillset that the insurance industry can bring to the table.
4. The next step in making EWS more effective is to improve the actual technology of the systems. This can be done by ensuring the widespread implementation of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). Technology currently exists that can help governments and organisations successfully implement and follow a CAP structure, this would enable easier ways to target early warning notifications to only at-risk or affected individuals and provide sufficiently outlined steps recipients can understand and action. Technology such as critical event management solutions can introduce efficiencies by automating many components across the DRR cycle.
Additionally, organisations can ensure that Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS) are more efficient by taking a multi-channel approach. Location-based SMS or cell-broadcast are only some of the possible channels in which at-risk individuals can be reached. These should be complemented with satellite, push applications, public boards in the streets, as well as radio, TV, and other more traditional channels. All these channels should automatically send the alert based on the same structure, which is done through the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), for better interoperability. EWS can be even more effective when tech companies and mobile network operators jointly support awareness programs geared toward the final message recipients. These awareness programs could encourage the public to acknowledge and understand early warning notifications and take the proper actions to better protect themselves.
5. The final step to improving EWS within the context of DRR is to implement uniform standards and best practices across governments, organisations and enterprises. We can do this by using the combined know-how from tech and insurance companies to support the regulators in the creation of inclusive, bottom-up, and reliable frameworks for DRR.
The companies that are actively working to improve climate adaptation efforts must work with government agencies to impart the importance of adaptive solutions and bring awareness to the necessity of these kinds of solutions, which would then lead to new regulations based on best practices for using EWS.
We have the opportunity to make EWS even more effective, and as UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “let us recognize the value of early warnings and early action as critical tools to reduce disaster risk and support climate adaptation.”
Insurance companies have an important role to play in supporting increased DRR efforts, and it is in their best interest to work alongside governments in raising public awareness on what to do in the case of disasters.
“Collaboration is absolutely key when it comes to increased adaptation action. WCS brings together people from a wide variety of business as well as business-related functions to help set the scene. This enables us to shed more light on the many benefits that adaptation and resilience building brings, which helps us outline the imperative that more investment in adaptation is needed, and that this is good and beneficial investment.”
- Michael Szönyi, Flood Resilience Program Lead, Zurich Insurance Company
We can take a cost-benefit approach to DRR, demonstrating why insurance companies can support the uptake of DRR. While money will be spent on these efforts to raise awareness, insurance companies will ultimately reduce overall costs when people learn to take appropriate actions.
More investments into risk reduction are necessary, and more critical actors including the insurance and the tech industries should come together to support an accelerated uptake. This would be a win-win situation for all parties involved, including the insured policyholders and the insurance organisations, as avoided losses benefit all.
Everbridge, Inc. (NASDAQ: EVBG) is a global software company that helps companies and public sector authorities anticipate, respond, and adapt to risk by centralizing business intelligence, communications, and crisis management. Our Critical Event Management (CEM) software solutions are trusted by over 6,200 customers across 76 countries, and over 23 national disaster prevention authorities use the Everbridge Public Warning Center to alert their populations. In addition to direct customer sales, and referrals, Everbridge goes to market via qualified partners to broaden our distribution and reach. Through market-leading solutions and the Everbridge Partner Program, we can grow our mutual business together and keep people safe.
Learn more: www.everbridge.com
About Zurich Insurance
Zurich is a leading multi-line insurer that serves its customers in global and local markets. With about 55,000 employees, it provides a wide range of property and casualty, life insurance products and services in more than 215 countries and territories. Zurich’s customers include individuals, small businesses, and mid-sized and large companies, as well as multinational corporations. We aim to be one of the most responsible and impactful businesses in the world. The stories in our Annual Report reflect how we are bringing our aspiration to life in different ways for the benefit of our stakeholders.
Learn more: www.zurich.com
About the authors
Lorenzo Marchetti – Everbridge Senior Specialist Government & Public Affairs
Lorenzo is a Sr. Public & Government Affairs Specialist at Everbridge. In this role he focuses on shaping the external policy environment across key target countries, starting from EMEA, and gradually expanding to all international regions (EMEA, APAC, LATAM) to support the growth of Everbridge Public Safety and CEM businesses. Since his arrival at Everbridge, he has contributed to programs that aim at positioning the company as a key technological solutions provider in the field of climate resilience.
Michael Szönyi - Zurich Insurance Flood Resilience Program Lead
Michael Szönyi is a member of the executive staff in the Group’s Sustainability function with Zurich Insurance Group. He leads Zurich's award-winning Flood Resilience Program, a multi-sector alliance with academia, humanitarian organisations and the private sector, aiming to enhance community flood resilience. The program, originally started in 2012, was recently extended to run in a second phase from 2018-2024 as part of Zurich’s Climate Resilience strategy and is now operating community programs, knowledge and advocacy as well as research in over 20 countries globally. Michael has advisory mandates to the United Nations High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (“UN HELP”) and to the European Union’s H2020 community resilience project (“RESILOC”). He serves as Vice-Chair of the Sustainability Working Group of “Insurance Europe”, the European (Re-)Insurance Federation.