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Stress Tests Create Shared Understanding and Prioritize Resilience Strategies

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Planning and designing resilient new and upgraded health-care facilities requires climate-related impacts to be identified and addressed. This is undertaken in a workshop setting, where climate risk assessment is the focus.

A climate risk assessment is a strategic tool that provides the basis for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation for a facility over its 60- to 100-year lifecycle. The climate risk assessment relies on participant experience and climate projections to explore the likelihood of climate-related impacts, the sensitivity of people, services and assets to cascading impacts, and the level of effort likely needed to adapt. The level of risk is determined from these explorations.

Key health stakeholders — including clinical planning and operations, emergency management, infection prevention and control, virtual health, supply chain, maintenance and operations, facility project teams, local governments and utilities — work collaboratively to better understand the likelihood of and consequences posed by climate-related impacts and to identify and evaluate potential design strategies to reduce risks and embed resilience.

A stress test is a planning exercise conducted as part of a climate risk assessment workshop. It helps participants visualize a future climate reality and discover how design strategies used today can improve resilience to climate shocks and stressors of the future.

“The stress test scenarios of the workshops are built around actual future climate projections to get people used to applying new information to our everyday reality,” explains Angie Woo, climate risk and resilience manager for Fraser Health, Providence Health Care, Provincial Health Services Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health.

In a stress test, participants are confronted with future-based scenarios containing climate characteristics (e.g. year three of prolonged hot and dry conditions with unseasonably mild and dry winters; temperatures in the region over 30°C for the past three weeks) and regional impacts (e.g. Level 4 water restrictions; Air Quality Health Index above level 10 for the past two weeks; utility with reduced capacity to deliver electricity; increase in hospital visits for heat stress and respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses). Participants are asked to share and apply their experience and expertise to create a common understanding of how health infrastructure and health-care delivery may be affected under such scenarios.

Undertaking the stress test exercise helps participants assess the risk from climate-related impacts and prioritize actions to make health-care facilities and delivery more resilient. Workshop results assist project and design teams in their work to plan and design new and upgraded facilities, and the workshop experience also tends to spark an interest among participants in what they can do in their workplaces today to become more climate resilient.

“Climate risk assessment workshops include stakeholders from across our health system, since all parts of the health system are affected,” Angie says. “The COVID-19 pandemic is showing us how critical —and possible — it is to work in a strategic, coordinated and nimble manner to meet the challenge of an unprecedented situation. Experts tell us that increasing climate and pandemic risks are part of our new reality. For this reason, we seek strategies and pathways that increase resilience to both.”