Weather the storms

  • 11th October 2023

John Fraser

John Fraser considers how the threats of climate change should affect your approach to managing risk in your school estate

In 2020, the earth’s surface temperature was 0.98°C warmer than the 20th century average. December 2021 saw 12.2 million square kilometres of sea ice adrift in the Northern hemisphere, a 4% increase from the previous year. Our climate is changing and, regardless of where your school is located in the UK, this is likely to have a significant impact on your property risks. Increased rainfall and flooding, drought and heatwaves, and extreme weather events are climate-change challenges that will all require risk mitigation.

Climate change has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of floods and rainfall in the UK. This poses a significant risk to all schools, not just those located in flood-prone areas, increasing the likelihood of damage and the cost of insurance premiums. In particular, heavy downpours can overwhelm drainage systems and cause flash flooding in schools. This increase in surface water runoff poses challenges for drainage, including sewers and surface water management systems. These systems may become overwhelmed, leading to localised flooding, sewer backups, and increased risks to properties.

The increased rainfall intensity and the risk of flooding associated with climate change can pose a threat to school buildings located in flood-prone areas. Flooding can result in structural damage, damage to equipment and resources, and the disruption of educational activities. Schools may need to implement flood mitigation measures, improve drainage systems, or consider relocation in extreme cases.

Climate change has also contributed to more frequent heatwaves and drought conditions in the UK. Higher temperatures and prolonged dry spells can affect school buildings and infrastructure, leading to issues such as subsidence, structural damage and increased fire risks. During periods of drought, soil moisture levels decrease, causing the soil to shrink. This shrinkage can result in subsidence, particularly in areas with clay soils that are highly sensitive to moisture changes. Additionally, extreme heat can affect the wellbeing of staff and pupils, increasing cooling demands and affect future energy costs.

Rising temperatures can create uncomfortable and potentially unsafe conditions for pupils and staff, particularly in schools without adequate cooling systems. Heatwaves can affect concentration, physical wellbeing and productivity. Schools may need to invest in cooling measures or adapt their schedules to mitigate the impact of heat stress.

The UK has experienced an increase in severe storms and extreme weather events as a result of climate change. These storms, coastal storm surges, intense hailstorms, high wind speeds and wildfires can all cause significant damage to properties, including roof and solar panel damage, flooding and structural issues. Such events can lead to higher insurance premiums and increased costs of property maintenance and repair.

Schools may face disruptions in their operations due to school closures, power outages, or damage to infrastructure caused by severe weather events. This can affect the learning environment and potentially lead to the temporary closure of part or all of a school.

Climate change can also worsen air quality, particularly in urban areas. Increased pollution and higher pollen levels can affect the health of pupils and staff, leading to respiratory issues and reduced wellbeing. Schools may need to implement measures to monitor and improve indoor air quality, such as proper ventilation systems and filtration.

It remains crucial for schools to stay informed about climate change impacts and take appropriate measures to protect properties and manage associated risks.

Schools may need to consider retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency, adapt to changing climate conditions, and reduce their carbon footprint. This can include upgrades such as insulation, energy- efficient lighting, renewable energy installations, and rainwater harvesting systems. Such measures can enhance the sustainability and resilience of school infrastructure.

Climate change and the associated risks can also have psychological and emotional impacts on pupils, staff and the school community. Concerns about the future, eco-anxiety and a sense of urgency may affect mental health. Schools can play a vital role in providing support systems, promoting climate literacy, and fostering a sense of empowerment and resilience in the face of climate change challenges.

It’s important for schools to engage in climate change adaptation planning, assess vulnerabilities, and develop strategies to manage and respond to the effects. Collaborating with local authorities, educators and the wider community can help ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to address climate change impacts on schools. Remember to:

Stay informed: stay up to date on how climate change affects your region specifically. Understand the potential risks, such as flooding, coastal erosion or extreme weather events that your school may face due to climate change.

Assess vulnerabilities: conduct a thorough assessment of your property’s vulnerabilities to climate-related risks. Identify areas that are at higher risk, such as cellars, low-lying areas, or locations near water bodies. This assessment will help you prioritise risk management efforts and take appropriate actions.

Be insured: speak to your insurance broker to review your coverage to ensure it adequately protects your property against climate-related risks. Understand the terms, exclusions and limitations of your policy. Consider additional coverage options, such as flood insurance, to enhance protection. Regularly review and update your insurance coverage as needed.

Maintain and upgrade property: regularly maintain your property to ensure it is in good condition and resilient to climate-related risks. This may include maintaining drainage systems and gutters, inspecting and repairing roofs, reinforcing vulnerable structures, and protecting against wind and water damage. Consider energy-efficient upgrades that enhance climate resilience, such as insulation, storm windows or renewable energy installations.

• Ensure sustainable drainage: implement sustainable drainage solutions, such as rainwater harvesting, permeable paving, or green roofs. These measures can help manage storm water runoff, reduce flood risk, and contribute to the overall sustainability of your school.

Landscape and plant vegetation: utilise landscaping techniques that enhance climate resilience. Planting native vegetation, creating more green spaces, and implementing appropriate irrigation systems can help manage soil moisture, reduce erosion, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperatures.

Have an adaptation and resilience plan: develop a climate adaptation and resilience plan for your school which should include strategies to address identified risks and potential future scenarios.

Engage with the local community: collaborate with your neighbours, community groups and local authorities to implement neighbourhood-level resilience measures, share information, and support each other in managing climate-related risks.

Develop financial planning: incorporate climate-related risks into your long-term financial planning.

By implementing an appropriate blend of these risk management strategies, schools can enhance the resilience of their properties and operations and reduce the potential effects of climate change.

Listed buildings
For schools with Grade I and Grade II listed buildings, the risks driven by the effects of climate change are likely to be higher when compared to other buildings. Factors such as location, specific construction materials and methods, previous maintenance, and ongoing conservation efforts can influence their vulnerability. Engaging with conservation professionals, architects and heritage organisations can provide valuable guidance on assessing and managing climate change risks specific to these buildings while preserving their historical significance. Things to consider:

Age and vulnerability: a listed building’s age and construction methods can make it more susceptible to damage from floods, storms, wildfires, and other climate-related hazards.

Limited adaptability: listed buildings are subject to preservation regulations that limit alterations to their original fabric and appearance. This can restrict the implementation of modern retrofitting and adaptation measures that could enhance their resilience to climate change effects.

Location and exposure: Grade I and Grade II listed buildings are often located in areas with historical significance, such as city centres or near water bodies. These locations may expose them to other indirect climate-related risks, such as air pollution or flooding.

Maintenance challenges: listed buildings require careful maintenance to preserve their heritage value. Climate change impacts, such as increased humidity, higher temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events, can accelerate the deterioration of building materials. Maintenance and repair
costs for these buildings may increase as a result. In addition, the specialist skills to perform the maintenance – such as stonemasons – maybe in short supply increasing costs and lengthening timelines.

John Fraser is managing director of the education practice at insurance broker and risk advisor Marsh.

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