Charting the path to climate resilience


“We just know it’s the right thing to do for our customers and – I say this after years of risk management – it’s good basic risk management,” says Shannon Carroll, Director of Environmental Sustainability. worldwide at AT&T. “If everything indicates that something is going to happen in the future, it is our responsibility to prepare for it. ”

Globally, leaders in government, business and academia see the urgency. World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2021 names extreme weather events due to climate change and human-made environmental damage among the most pressing risks of the next decade. Citing the risks with the highest impact, respondents cited the failure of climate action and other environmental risks just after infectious diseases.

AT&T acts with its Climate resilience project, using analysis of spatial data and location information to solve the complex problem of how increasingly powerful storms could affect infrastructure such as cell phone towers and the ability of telecommunications to provide service to its customers. “Spatial analysis is this way of going beyond what we see visually,” says Lauren Bennett, head of spatial analysis and data science at Esri, a geographic information systems company ( GIS). “It goes beyond a data-driven approach and much more towards a knowledge-driven approach. ”

To better understand its vulnerability, AT&T worked with the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Their common mission was to identify risks to the company’s infrastructure and real estate based on historical weather events and predictive modeling. They fed company asset data and laboratory climate data into a GIS, which can overlay disparate volumes of information in the context of location for visualization and analysis. The output of all of this multifaceted information is called location intelligence.

“When we talk about GIS,” says Jay Theodore, chief technology officer at Esri, “we are able to expand globally to solve global problems, but also reduce and bring magnifying glass to something in the immediate vicinity and investigate that too.

AT&T looks to the future today

“Everyone needs a plan to tackle climate change,” Carroll says. AT & T’s plan focuses on advanced spatial analysis to see how destructive storms and other climate change-related phenomena across the United States will affect nearby infrastructure. Ultimately, companies will be able to predict where and to what extent weather events could affect customers. AT&T understands that without a resilient network, the broadband connectivity required to bridge the digital divide is also at risk. “Our number one priority is to make sure we have a network that will serve our customers 20 or 30 years from now,” says Carroll.

The basis of AT & T’s GIS is a map identifying the locations of company offices and stores, cell phone towers and servers, storage facilities, underground and overhead wires and conduits, and other infrastructure. . Above the map are the climate change data analyzes that AT&T commissioned from Argonne. Together, Argonne and AT&T have created the Climate Change Analysis Tool, which can predict the frequency, extent, and location of floods, high-speed winds, wildfires, and drought for roughly 30 years. in the future.

Location intelligence visualizes climate-related risks to AT & T’s infrastructure, based on contextual information and scientific knowledge. Without the GIS spatial correlation between Argonne’s climate analyzes and the company’s map, AT&T would have a jumble of hard-to-interpret data, arranged in separate spreadsheets and databases, totaling over 500. billion pages of text. As Theodore explains, “if you want the full picture, if you want to make the right decisions, you have to bring in a location. ”

For example, as a pilot, the AT&T and Argonne team used their Climate Change Analysis Tool to examine areas of the southeastern United States susceptible to flooding and high winds. “Getting some of the best climate data available from the Argonne National Laboratory and then overlaying it in a GIS so that you can visualize it is in itself very exciting,” says Carroll. In exceptional detail, executives could determine how the infrastructure of four states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida) could be affected by, say, a 50-year-old storm over the next several decades. “Not all [asset] is at the same risk, even if they are close to each other, ”emphasizes Carroll. This assessment can be useful for more precise planning, for example, allocating resources to potentially relocate, remodel, or strengthen infrastructure against potential damage.

One of the key tenets of the telecommunications sustainability effort involves a tactic that many companies avoid: data sharing. AT&T teams working on climate risk analysis have decided to make their data available to everyone. They made the access public through press releases and social media channels, encouraging individuals and groups to download it. “When it comes to building climate resilience, you are not in competition. This is where you collaborate, ”says Carroll. “We encourage everyone to use this data because it is useless to us if we are resilient, but not the rest of our value chain. ”

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