AT&T Engages Argonne National Laboratory to Assess, Boost Climate Resilience

Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing challenges. In the short 2016-2020 period, the U.S. has endured a series of catastrophic hurricanes in the Southeast, including Matthew, Irma, Maria, and Michael, and the largest and deadliest wildfire season on record in the West. These climate-related events not only pose a direct threat to communities, infrastructure, and businesses but also carry with them the potential for compounding impacts on our economy, national security, health, and wellbeing. 

As one of the world’s largest companies, determining how to better prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change is an increasingly important factor in decision making at AT&T. High-intensity winds and floods caused by storms and sea-level rise, for example, create the need to be strategic to protect new and existing telecommunications infrastructure such as fiber and cell sites. We also need to enhance network redundancy in disaster-prone areas to ensure our network stays operational during extreme weather events.  

AT&T’s Climate Resiliency Project 

To better understand how we are positioned to respond to climate change, AT&T engaged the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to develop a Climate Change Analysis Tool. It combines Argonne’s regional climate modeling data with sophisticated mapping capabilities to visualize climate-related risk to company infrastructure. Instead of relying on 10-day weather forecasts and historical weather data, we can now visualize climate-related events decades into the future. This information will help us plan for maintenance, disaster recovery, and future construction to best serve our customers and communities.

We chose to engage Argonne because of the lab’s expertise and access to high-resolution climate models that project impacts at the local and regional level. Internally, we developed a climate resilience team of company executives, data scientists, and geographic information system (GIS) specialists. As part of the project scope, Argonne delivered forecast data that predicted the likelihood and level of severity of our priority climate impacts: coastal flooding, inland flooding, and high-intensity winds. Offering anywhere from 10-year to 100-year return periods, the tool will allow network planners to understand the range of possible impacts to AT&T assets and align risk tolerance with the expected lifespan of those assets.

Challenges and Lessons Learned 

As part of our Climate Resiliency Project, we commissioned a survey of U.S. business leaders. The results revealed that less than a third (29%) had assessed the risks of climate change to their business, and fewer than 2 in 5 (38%) said their company had a plan to respond to climate-related events.

Being the first company in the telecom industry to publicly embark on such an effort, AT&T recognizes the challenges in building resilience to climate change. Three lessons we believe are worth sharing include: 

  1. Prioritize climate change impacts that are most relevant to your business. Every business and community has unique decision-making needs. Leveraging Argonne’s expertise, we narrowed down seemingly endless datasets to pinpoint business-relevant climate variables. The project scope focused on the Southeast, which is highly susceptible to Atlantic hurricanes, and we identified different types of flooding and high-intensity winds as our priority climate impacts. 
  2. Consider a visualization tool with layering capabilities. Delivering maximum benefit from this project depended on having a data visualization tool that was able to integrate our asset data with Argonne’s climate datasets. The tool also needed to include, at a minimum, layering capabilities and support for topological and geological features. 
  3. Socialize internally to help drive utilization. AT&T’s internal climate resilience team conducted a road show to educate teams around the company about the capabilities of the tool.  

To help others build resilience, AT&T made the climate datasets that we use publicly available. Providing everyone – from municipalities to universities – with the opportunity to better understand the risks posed by climate change will equip communities to become more climate-resilient.

Goals and Future Plans 

Our resilience work is just beginning. AT&T is exploring the potential expansion of the existing tool beyond the Southeast, and we’re looking at expanding the forecast data to include other climate change impacts such as wildfires and droughts. 

AT&T is equally committed to climate change mitigation as a related strategy. We are one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy in the U.S. Through our 10x Carbon Reduction Goal, we are working to enable greenhouse gas emissions savings for our customers 10x the footprint of our operations by 2025. More information about AT&T’s environmental initiatives and commitment to environmental responsibility can be found at att.com/environment.

Shannon Thomas Carroll
Director of Global Environmental Sustainability, AT&T