Back in the mid-1970s, I accepted a job at the Red Cross as a disaster manager, which included planning, executing, responding, and mitigating results to help people recover after natural catastrophes. Each event had its own nuances, and most recoveries involved specific responses, some smaller, some larger.
I moved away to other jobs, but as I look at ‘climate change’ today, the new challenges are substantially larger than they were in the past. However, some things stay the same …
We’ll return to the history, but let’s look at the current moment.
Dorian – the Category 5 hurricane on the Atlantic shore – is the most recent …
This month, we are seeing multiple countries and jurisdictions facing various aspects of disaster:
- Danger to people, pets & animals, across a huge geographical swath through the Bahamas, the Atlantic coast of United States, and Canada’s eastern provinces;
- Likewise endangered are homes and property assets ranging from simple bamboo shacks on ‘free’ locations up to extremely large areas built and managed by multi-billionaires;
- Thefts and looting, and secondary injuries and crimes – even murders – in the wake of Dorian, after the hurricane had already visited its own devastation with powerful winds and flooding: recovery from injury, illness, death and property losses will be a work in progress for years to come;
- Destroyed infrastructure – including roads, rails, aircraft, water supply, communications networks and capabilities, etc. – will complicate recovery efforts by those responding.
In short, for most people directly or indirectly involved, the events and follow-ons involve huge losses in life and materials.
Fortunately, the sun will continue to rise and set, the vast majority of folks will go back to some normality (in time), and, hopefully, we will have gained some new wisdom.
Factoids in the Atlantic
In a first estimate, MarketsInsider calculated that Dorian could cost more than US$25 billion in the Bahamas alone. Other estimates are coming in from states along the coast. Moving from the US to Canada, Nova Scotia and other provinces will also be getting estimates as Dorian leaves.
Analysts have estimated that total losses could be as much as US$40 billion. Reinsurers had developed excess capital – US$30 billion – accruing since Hurricane Maria in 2017. However, it appears that Dorian will “wipe out reserves and lead the companies to raise their prices.”
According to a National Hurricane Center tweet, Dorian’s eye made a second landfall at 2pm on September 1st over Great Abaco. The Centre added: “Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph at the time. This is tied for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.”
The Great Abaco Island, near Marsh Harbour, was destroyed in most houses, churches, and others. This was the result of Dorian’s sitting on top of Bahama islands for several days.
At present, there are thousands of Bahamians without any food, water or shelter. After more than 8 days without any help, the refugees were invited (sort of) to come to Florida. Some landed in Florida and made it out of the plane. Others were unceremoniously turned around and returned to Bahama.
Back to the Future
Back in my first disaster job, a wizened Red Cross director took a few of us to a bar to offer some help and understanding in our work. Specifically, he was tired of his being asked every five minutes to tell the newbies what to do next.
After we got the first round down, our leader said this: “To get going better, there are three things you need to do: Put up the flag, put on the coffee, and (as needed) call for help.”
In other words, you have to make people aware of who you are and what you do (the Red Cross flag helps). Refreshments provide the comfort of warmth and familiarity amid a chaotic situation – helpful as a client begins to fill out paperwork, for example. And if the client is too shaken, direct him or her to one of your colleagues who might have more time.
The point is that disaster relief organizations have encountered similar challenges before, and they know a bit more about how to proceed than the clients who faced destruction – not too much more, but enough to help.
We deal with lots of new technologies to help reduce danger and cost. But it is more critical to deal with the human element in the worst of times.