COLUMN – Closer look at disaster readiness

EMERGENCY911 block-1Four years ago, as part of this column’s theme to promote hazard awareness and disaster preparedness, as well as to advocate the need for an aggressive approach to reducing complacency, we started a series on preparedness planning. In the series we took a walk through an average business office, its warehouse and distribution centre.

Then we did the same thing with homes and residential communities.

This exercise provided us with an opportunity to share with the reader how different groups approached disaster preparedness planning, and how each group would recover if a disaster situation had developed. Two things we found most interesting were the parallel in attitudes towards preparedness planning, and the contrast between groups about
what considered critical or low priority.

Princess Alice Bus Terminal, Bridgetown following hurricane Tomas' passing.
Princess Alice Bus Terminal, Bridgetown following hurricane Tomas’ passing.
Many houses were affected.
Many houses were affected.
A boat sunk in the Bridgetown shallow draft, from Tomas' wrath.
This boat was sunk in the Bridgetown shallow draft, by Tomas’ wrath.
Tree damage after Tomas.
Tree damage after Tomas.

Another interesting parallel was how finance was used as the primary factor in determining what was needed to either maintain business continuity, or home security. For the business, available finance to maintain operations influenced what moneys would be allocated to disaster preparedness. The similarity of emphasis on money to spend on preparedness between the two groups based on what was seen in the walk-through, suggested the following:

1. If the property was a rented home, the priority was placed on contents –– suggesting the property owner would be responsible for recovery. However, if those repairs were not going to be done in a timely manner, based on the estimation of damages, the renter would automatically leave, thereby cutting off any income from the property to the owner.

Additionally, if the rental property was not comprehensively insured, or for reasons not known, the policy had not been renewed, then an even greater financial burden was placed on the property owner. Ironically, a major portion of this cost would eventually be passed on to the new renter.

2. If part of the rental property was in fact a renovated extension of the property owner’s home, the impact of the disaster would be equally shared between renter and owner. Again there was a parallel here which unfortunately showed that a disaster can be used to perpetrate an unscrupulous
act by some individuals.

There have been cases where the rental portion of the shared property is the only part left intact and considered safe for occupation, but all of the utilities are have been affected. What then occurs is a deliberate delay in restoring the overall property, which forces the renter to move, thus allowing the owner, with little or no difficulty to occupy the now empty portion while the repairs are completed on the rest of the property.

Attorneys approached on this issue have commented that while there is a definite moral and social issue to be answered regarding such behaviour, there may be no legal ground, based on any current statute, for the tenant to turn to.

Even if there was legal recourse for the tenant, the length of time required for a decision in the tenant’s favour might be impracticable and disadvantageous, as the property would still remain uninhabitable all the while.

3. From a business owner’s perspective, the said outcome was likely if similar circumstances prevailed. However, attorneys and insurance executives have said that in business, most companies would have insurance policies that would address this scenario. The critical factor in this type of circumstance is that the business owner should have a business recovery continuity plan in order for the company to remain active.

Failure on the part of the business owner to have such a contingency would be a lack of planning laid at the feet of the company; not the property owner or landlord.

Against this background –– which we will continue to explore next week –– we are again walking through a home to take a closer look at its preparedness. It is irrelevant in this case whether it is rented or owned, because the preparedness issues will not change.

After four years, we have found that the garden has got bigger and there are even more items that need to be secured before they either get damaged or become projectiles.
The decision on where to move the extra plants and secure the expanded garden tools collection; or where an even more elaborate set of patio furniture my now be safely stored has not been effected.

We find that additional pottery has been used to decorate the garden. Two more garden hoses have been added and they are in a tangled mess. In a fire you will waste precious time untangling; and in a hurricane all three of garden hoses could get wrapped around whatever they come
into contact with.

In the living room, there is a much bigger aquarium, and another has been added in the patio. There are still many things on the walls: among them pictures and paintings, the majority of which are very expensive, and are neither protected nor insured. In case of an earthquake, these items should be firmly fixed to the walls to reduce sudden movement.

The homeowner has to answer the following before any hazard occurs:

  1. Where will you put them if you take them down?

  2. Do you have enough space for all of them?

  3. Which of them carries the greatest personal value to you? Degrees and diplomas, awards, trophies, family photos, paintings, wall ornaments?

  4. Which one has the most memories, which you do not want to lose?

  5. Some of them are very old and can never be replaced, can you afford to lose them?

  6. What will happen if the aquariums fall and gallons and gallons of water and shattered glass now cover the living room floor and patio? Apart from the furniture, what else can you protect?

  7. Is there a fire extinguisher in place?

  8. Is it in the kitchen? Do you know how to use it? Or do you still have it as you bought it –– in a box?

  9. When was the last time you checked it to make sure it was ready for use?

10. Does everyone in the household know how to use the fire extinguisher?

11. Do you have young children in your family? Are any of them old enough to be taught how to use it, just in case?

12. Is there someone always around them who knows how to?

Take a look around the room and you will be surprised. First you have the vases, the photo albums under the coffee table, then the delicate collectibles, all of which you have accumulated over the years –– sentimental items given to you by family and friends for varying occasions. They are all part of the decorative ambiance of your home; but in a disaster, especially a fire, they will be gone in seconds.

With a hurricane, there is usually some time to protect and least preserve some of your life collections before the tropical storm makes landfall. But why wait until just before it lands to start scrambling to protect them?

This preparedness journey should not be seen as a nuisance or intrusive into your life, but as a helpful method of improving your preparedness planning, and reducing family complacency.

Tomorrow is today, and I would suggest that you plan for next week –– which is in fact tomorrow.


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