Earlier this year the UK government updated its National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies to include large global hazards such as the damaging impact of space weather on tele- and satellite-based communications, power grids, air travel and other forms of technological infrastructure. These forms of hazards include solar flares, coronal mass ejections and solar energetic particle events.
While these extreme events are rare, with the last recorded space weather event affecting the UK occurring in 1859 known as the Carrington Event, space weather has the potential to cause mass disruption and devastation to any electrical system people depend on for survival.
The risk of flu pandemic occurring in the UK is also extremely high. A report released by the risk research company Maplecroft says the UK is at extreme risk for the spread of influenza. It ranks countries based on three global indices: risk of emergence of a strain of influenza, the risk of flu virus spreading and ‘the capacity to contain outbreaks of an infectious disease’. The UK is in fact ranked at number two of the top 10 countries most at risk of pandemic flu (see this world map showing the risks of pandemic flu spreading). The first is Singapore and behind the UK are South Korea, the Netherlands and Germany who are all rated as at ‘extreme risk’. The remaining five countries considered at ‘high risk’ are Belgium, North Korea, Italy, France and Spain. However, the UK, Netherlands and Germany are among the top ten countries ‘with the highest capacity to contain a pandemic should one occur’, according to the report. There is also the risk of terrorist attacks whether on transport systems, crowded places or cyber attacks.
Other hazards the UK is vulnerable to listed in the register include coastal flooding, however, inland flooding is also an issue. In June and July 2007, extreme rainfall led to the flooding of 7,300 businesses across England. Flooding can also puts transport routes, electricity, telecommunications and water supplies at risk, not to mention the need to evacuate and relocate people whose homes have been flooded. IHRR’s BIOPICCC project is looking specifically at the effects of flooding along with other extreme weather events in the case of older people’s care facilities that like other medical and social services are vulnerable to hazardous weather induced by climate change.
Finally, the UK is also at risk of being affected by volcanic eruptions. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland demonstrated how ash clouds can severely disrupt air travel while also affecting other facilities. There is also the potential for volcanic ash to affect the health of individuals if breathed in, which is monitored by the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network and other organisations dedicated to addressing volcanic health hazards in different parts of the world.