Disasters threaten every year. Don’t fear. Prepare.

If production is the lifeblood of a national economy then the port is the heart. Through these gateways pass cargoes which sustain life and generate wealth. It is therefore incumbent on countries, for the sake of the survival of their peoples, to keep these virtual gateways open and accessible so that cargo from sea and hinterland may gain unrestricted passage.

It is an imperative for survival, let alone development, that ports (particularly marine ports where most cargoes are handled) are skillfully managed, properly maintained, tightly secured and operationally accessible. It is against this background that the objectives and work of organizations such as the Port Management Association of the Caribbean, American Association of Port Authorities, Gulf Ports Association of the Americas, to name a few, must be viewed. These organizations have, over time, empowered and enabled their members ­ through dialogue, cooperation, collaboration and transfer of the most effective practices ­ to effectively manage, maintain, secure and protect their ports. Active membership in these organizations is therefore a first step to keeping the lifeblood of economic development flowing. But, as effective as these organizations have been at network building and transfer of knowledge and experience, they are scarcely able to stave off the ravages of natural disasters.

Nothing can stop seismic activity or a resulting tsunami. (And the fact that the Caribbean tectonic plate is surrounded by active fault lines bordering the North American plate, the Panama and Cocos plates and, to the south, the North Andes and South American plates should give no reason for comfort.) Similarly, human intervention cannot effectively quell or divert a hurricane. The only human response to natural disasters is to prepare. And failing to prepare is de facto preparing to fail.

Given the absolute dependence on ports for national survival and growth; and, the enormous value of resources invested in sustaining their operation, every port authority and terminal operator should prepare diligently for inevitable disasters.

Preparation for disaster is an ongoing process and should not be treated as occasional or even seasonal activity. It is reckless to do otherwise. []

  • First published: June 1, 2016,

Mike Jarrett, Editor-in-Chief