I am a little disappointed that the old tried and trusted headline of ‘phew. What a scorcher’ didn’t appear in the newspapers during the heatwave this week. Heatwave doesn’t feel like the right word to describe what happened and I am more comfortable to describe it as extreme heat or extreme weather. Reaching 40 degree heat is something I didn’t think I would ever see in the UK, and it even reached 39 in the north west according to my thermometer.
There has been a huge amount of discussion and debate about whether this situation was being overplayed and that we have lived through heatwaves before. I have read a lot about 1976, and as someone that was very young but does remember it there was a prolonged period of hot weather, and ladybirds, but not the extreme heat we have just experienced. It is not, as some have suggested, that young generations are not up to facing hot weather, the start of the week has been much more than hot weather.
In the UK we are not used to weather conditions that cause emergencies and lead to disasters. Other parts of the world are prepared for extreme heat and cold, for tornadoes, hurricanes and for earthquakes. We rarely see these conditions which means the need to prepare carefully when there are forecasts of problems ahead. It was a huge surprise to me that the first COBR meeting (not COBRA as keeps being used) was not until the day before the extreme weather was due to arrive. The Cabinet Office Briefing Room meeting is where the plans will be put in place, consequences managed and resilience established. It doesn’t need the Prime Minister to be in attendance. Much has been made of the fact that Boris Johnson was not involved. It is not required but as he is in the twilight of his time in office it was an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.
My main frustration with the way things developed in the past few days was the lack of sensible messaging about what people needed to do. For more than a week the weather forecasters and news rooms have been predicting the hot weather. There have been graphics showing dark red over the UK which can only serve to increase fear or even disinterest in the repeated message. People needed to know how to keep cool, how to protect themselves and their property, how to avoid heat stroke and above all what they could do to prepare.
When life is hard and there is a daily struggle to make ends meet it is incredibly challenging to get people to think about preparing for some possible future events. The day to day is the priority so the future security has to take a back seat. This is why leaders need to make sure they are focusing on being prepared. If they don’t do it who will?
Latest news is that we could face floods after the extreme heat. This it time to add climate risks to your business and organisation risk register.