Friday, 1 March 2013

Snowed in

Snow is gently fluttering down passed the window pane. The view is beautiful, the trees and hillsides shining in their white robes. Sheep sit and watch the icy skies, seemingly perplexed.

Somehow snowy weather seems all right in rural areas. Life goes on, pretty much unaffected. A tractor just passed by, as normal, and here 4x4’s are not the incongruous luxury they might be further south. The recycling van may not have made it up the valley, but the postman is made of tougher stuff. We cope.

In cities, however, it seems everything falls apart! The news is chock solid with stories of trains not running, planes not flying, schools closed and chaos on the roads. How can this be? We’ve had about two to three inches in most places. Accepted, South Wales has been badly hit, but for others the fall is not much more than usual at this time of year. I am sure we had more in my youth – and still went to school!

Part of the reason is that many of our support systems we rely on are so highly tuned – a bit like racehorses and not an old packhorse. Nowadays risk is measured to the endth degree so there is no slack, no waste, no unnecessary cost. And we can see why. But the schedule is so tight that if snow comes along at Heathrow beyond the expected norm and planes have to take more time to land, delays and cancellations lead to knock-on chaos.

I am currently working for the UK on new International Standards (ISOs) for ‘Smart City infrastructure’ to help manage all this stress and make cities more sustainable. We call this making cities ‘smarter’. These Smart City standards will aid planners and city mangers to cope with new crises, including climatic events, and reduce their emissions and energy needs. Standards involve countries coming together and this in itself is a good thing in tackling global problems. They are also designed to reduce risks and provide comparable, standardised indicators so we can measure what is going on.

There is a long way to go and the UK is playing its full part. Maybe we will not collapse under the weight of a few inches of snow forever.

This initiative is being led by France and Canada. Any input is always welcome.

David Jackman
Chair of BSI TC 268 mirror committee (sustainable communities)

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