Can we prepare better? Managing risk in a context of uncertainty

On October 3rd, the Obama administration declared a state of emergency in South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin, which dumped a foot and a half of rain in approximately 24 hours on the Carolinas, caused floods from New Jersey to Georgia and sunk cargo ship El Faro and its crew. While the Charleston and many other cities were battling the floods, with a cost estimated at over $1 billion, France was also experiencing unexpected flash floods near Nice, which caused 17 death.  Landslides in Guatemala also claimed the lives of 186 people and were catalyzed by a strengthened El Nino. When considering each event in isolation, it may be possible to overlook the connection between the storms intensity and climate change. Together these extreme weather events are indicative of a larger trend; while we can’t predict where the next big storms will hit, we do know they are becoming more frequent and stronger.

Floods in South Carolina
Flooding in South Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

These serve as yet another wakeup call to remind us that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and that our communities, cities and business need to be prepared for the stormy weather. But, as humans, do we require a crisis to mobilize us into action? Or can the same results be sparked through other methods without the loss of life, property and human well-being?

Climate scientists have warned for years of how climate change will increase the intensity of hurricanes, and the Southeast U.S. is a highly exposed region for such hurricanes. Yet many of us act as if the storm was always going to hit next door, and fail to apply our rational understanding of risk to better preparedness.

At Four Twenty Seven, we created Climate War Games to put executives and decision-makers into the context of the increasing risks presented by climate change. Gaming and simulation provide teachable moments, which we can apply to our real world behavior.

Climate War Games
Operation, probability and climate outlook cards from the Climate War Game

In game play, we assign the players to companies and task them with running their business while getting through a number of rounds in which they experience unpredictable extreme weather events. We break down uncertainty by type of event and their varying impacts to supply chains and infrastructure that can be damaged by extreme precipitation or temperature.

While the specific outcomes are unpredictable, because they hinge on a dice roll, the risk profile of each player’s hand is clearly laid out, so as to enable teams to understand their company’s risk profile and adopt the most cost-effective portfolio of adaptation measures. The winner is the company that earns the most profit – and  limits its losses — that way, game play reflects the same challenges organizations face in the real world.

The game emulates the escalating risk of climate volatility and simulates through dice rolls the increasing likelihood of “black swan events” with low probability of occurrence, but high consequences and subsequent costs.

Players have to make the same tough choices they would in the real business world between saving or spending, and we see teams approach the choices in both creative and conventional ways. While there are different ways to play, the real value of the game comes from knowing that the risks actually create business opportunities, and acting through an informed strategy pays out over the long run. The game also helps participants reflect upon the potential human implications of their risk mitigation strategy.

Confronting the reality of what climate change is going to bring upon us can feel overwhelming at times. By providing a safe environment with clearly delineated risk profiles, and challenging players to make decisions and take action in a context of uncertainty, we help break down mental and cultural barriers to corporate adaptation, and set participants on track to build climate resilience. We do not know where the next storm will hit, but we can and should prepare to the best of our ability using climate science and probabilities.

Learn more about Climate War Games and our training courses offering here.

By: Sam Irvine