2015 February: We awake to the grief of more than 10 major disasters every 72 hours. Statistically that is 3.4 disasters every day. And we track them all — in the morning headlines over cereal and coffee or later over dinner during the evening newscast.

Each is undeniably tragic, immeasurable in human pain, suffering and casualties but sometimes quantifiable in terms of deaths or dollars. And dollar value for property destroyed can soar into billions.

The frequency of such catastrophic events tends to numb the senses. We are engaged only until the next new disaster flashes on the screen or screams from the tabloids selling sensationalism. We shield ourselves from these disasters by thinking that it happens to someone else. Yet, with reflection, we recognize that ‘it’ could happen to us.

In the Caribbean we are well aware of the ‘natural risks’ and man-made hazards. And we applaud the governmental agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs), private sector and universities that collect data, develop models, create simulations and build actuarial tables that advise us of probabilities, forecasts, and advance warnings. We are convinced that during our lifetime the Caribbean and Latin America will likely experience three of the worst types of natural hazards.

During our early years we learn about natural disasters, be they hurricanes, volcanoes or earthquakes. We know that almost every major city in the region at some time during its history has been devastated by an un-stoppable natural disaster. As adults, we learn to prepare for the historically documented, most likely or inevitable revisit. This is a risk-sensitive world where disruptions will always exist and most are beyond our control.

Since the ‘911’ terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City, the business of day-to-day life has changed. Businesses are increasingly vulnerable to   disruptions of services, cyber incidents as well as threats to human safety. In the context of this writing, we view these matters as man-made hazards.

Preparation for disaster includes learning about risk as a continuum; as one of connected steps. We are schooled, directed and quick to learn how to mitigate risk, how to protect our people, properties and businesses. We learn to stash batteries, water, and food, secure windows, doors and gaps with the potential to admit the undesirable. We pay to safe-haven key documents and cash and establish a human communication network system. We ready ourselves. And then, based on expectations, we choose to bunker down and ‘ride it out’ or otherwise move to safety. Thus the first phase of dealing with risk is completed.

As we view the risk continuum we label these first actions as reconnaissance. That is, we evaluate and prepare for what we think will come, be it a natural or a man-made disaster or hazard. In tandem, we progress to the next step of responding to and recovering from the brunt of the damage.

Likely, there is a great deal of expertise in our region capable of addressing immediate emergencies. Usually available are well-tested prepared procedures, training manuals and instructional literature with ‘how to,’ and ‘to-do’ suggestions for protection and recovery. However, it is from an immediate transitional phase to a post-disaster recovery to which attention is drawn.

Recovery is the re-entry to business. A phase with a well thought out strategy will direct the company and its leaders to overcome the effects of the disaster or hazard in an efficient manner. And, it carries the imperative to precisely and deliberately resume business as quickly as possible. It is in this latter phase, with a sense of urgency, that we examine the logistics of aid provided by the government and support sectors. Such examination of their actions continues throughout the recovery phase. This timeline to re-establish a working infrastructure and support communities and businesses is dependent on these parties and thus affects the transition to the company’s recovery.

Thus, with the end game in mind, examination and thorough understanding along with a buy-in of the recovery strategy are absolutely critical.

Taking the initial steps for developing a strategy is to address risk in stages. Namely, what is of value? What is the potential of losing that value? What is the assessment of the loss of value? What benefits could result from the experience of loss?

The latter presents a novel question. Can your organization benefit from a loss experience? Likely, if risks are viewed beforehand as advantages rather than adversities.

‘When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.’ []

by Joseph Cervenak