Participating in a web session on disaster risk management–while in the remnants of one!

Today, August 30th 2012, the day after Isaac slammed New Orleans, on the (talk about eerie) 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrnia, I was invited to participate in a session on using Public Private Partnerships to manage disaster risk in India Mexico, Vietnam, and the Caribbean by the Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue outside Geneva.

A panel representing the four nations/regions gave very interesting presentations on how private and public sectors had worked together on response and recovery efforts, and the Swiss Re representative discussed the potential for even greater cooperation.  At the end of the session, questions were solicited from the audience and web-based participants.  As I watched, I wanted to ask about using PPP to enhance resiliency efforts BEFORE disasters happen…

….but I couldn’t, because I had been kicked off my internet connection, I assume by a temporary power outage at the cell tower closest to my office caused by the wind.  You see, the wind that most likely caused the outage was from the remnants of Isaac, and by the time I was able to re-connect, it was too late.  Not that the session was over, it was too late because someone in the audience there had asked that very question.  The panelists answered in vague terms, obviously uncomfortable with an area they had not prepared to discuss.  That amazed me.  

There is an entire movement, and a movie, based on a concept called “paying it forward”.   The theory is that, if you give, even when it seems unreasonable to do so, you will receive more than your gift in return.  That’s what resiliency is all about..paying it forward.  Not waiting until the event to invest. And, just as the movement has proven to be based on fact, so is resiliency–investing in an uncertain future with the knowledge that, one way or another, a return will come.  

Isaac is a point in fact.  The US Army Corps of Engineers invested some $12 billion in a hurricane barrier surrounding New Orleans.  That investment worked.  Even though Isaac stalled over the city, and kicked up a storm surge that could easily have caused another catastrophe on the level of Katrina, the damage in terms of both property and life was far less.  Yes, Isaac was not as powerful.  But it was powerful enough to have been awful without that investment.  Was the storm protection system a PPP in the academic sense?  Maybe not, but the support of the private sector, the cooperation of property owners in allowing additional land to be utilized to create the system, and implementing their own resiliency measures, minimized what could have been far, far worse damage.

So, we still have work to do….in showing the value of paying it forward.  Let’s do it now before the next Japan, before the next Katrina, before the next Thailand.  Because there WILL be a next…..

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