Risks….and Opportunities…at the intersection of Resilience and Economic Development

As I proudly stated in my last post, I had the distinct honor of meeting with two officials of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in New York before the holidays.  Elina Palm and Maria Hasan were both gracious and receptive to hearing about the planned University of Oklahoma International Resilience Institute.  Elina gave me a copy of the UN’s 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, and encouraged me to read it in preparation for meetings I hope to have with their head office in Geneva next month.  I had seen the report, and scanned portions of it, but the holidays gave me the rare opportunity to actually read it.  What I learned was both troubling and encouraging.

Troubling was their assertion that, although reported estimates of economic impact of disasters worldwide have topped $100 billion in each of the past three years, which has never before happened, there is evidence that actual losses are up to 50% more than those reported. So, instead of $300 billion in losses in 2010, 2011, and 2012 combined, the economic losses are closer to $450 billion. Think of it–three years, almost a half-trillion dollars.  Those that do not see disasters as a significant economic development issue need to wake up!  In fact, the most surprising aspect of the 2013 GAR is how much of it has a direct relationship to economic issues. Of course, as always, there is no economic measure equal to human life, but the impacts of these events can, in fact, render many lives forever lessened, even if not lost.  

Consider these economic issues, taken directly from the 2013 GAR Report:

1.  Disasters directly effect long-term regional competitiveness and sustainability.  Prior to the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, the Port of Kobe was the world’s sixth-busiest.  Despite massive investment in reconstruction and efforts to improve competitiveness, by 2010 it had fallen to 47th place.  Of course, some may say that is due to the rise of China and stagnation of Japan’s economy.  However, no one can deny that there was at least some negative impact.

2.  Globalized supply chains create new vulnerabilities:  Toyota lost $1.2 BILLION in product revenue from the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.  

3.  Small and medium-sized businesses are particularly at risk. Yet, less than 15% of companies with less than 100 employees in disaster-prone cities in the Americas have a business continuity or crisis management plan in place.

4.  Disaster risk is a new multi-trillion dollar asset class. Globally, $71 trillion dollars of assets would be exposed to one-in-250 year earthquakes alone.  

But, believe it or not, there ARE positives to the new risk paradigm. For example:

1.  Business attitudes are changing–one business survey now ranks disaster risk as the 16th most important out of the top 50 risks, and as the 6th most important driver strengthening risk management. 

2. Businesses are increasingly factoring risk information into investment decision making.  Leading site location consultants, who are tasked with finding optimum locations for new corporate investment, increasingly cite disaster resilience as an important location factor.

3. Disaster risk management is a business opportunity:  The development of crop-insurance products or more disaster resilient infrastructure expands existing, and opens new, markets. 

4.  As the expiration of the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action in disaster risk reduction approaches in 2015, international efforts are strengthening to create a new framework for disaster risk reduction, one that increases the role of businesses and Public-Private Partnerships in creating a more resilient planet.

As the 2013 GAR states “Disaster risk, reduction, therefore, is a compelling shared value proposition for business”. The wall between economic development and disaster risk reduction is falling as quickly as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.  This time, the beneficiaries will be people from around the world, who will hopefully live in a more secure, more resilient, more economically sound planet. However, hope is useless without action.  So, act.  Give me your thoughts–good or bad.  Are investments, such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s $100 million+ investment in resilient cities, a waste?  Are the risks too low to be concerned about?  Stay tuned–a survey of site location consultants is underway.  Is the intersection of disaster resilience and economic development is simply a speed-bump, or something more–much more?  We shall see.  


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Resilience–A Buzzword, Yes–But Also So Much More

re·sil·ience (noun)  the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after an adverse and/or disruptive event–Merriam Webster Dictionary. Please hang on to that definition.  We’ll need it soon.

But first, and a first for me, a personal note.  Apologies all around, for it has been almost six months since my last post. A lot has happened in that relatively brief–in the annals of history, anyway–time, both personally and professionally.  Personally, after 51 years, I am for the first time since I was 9 months old no longer a resident of northwest Louisiana.  Although I’ve traveled the world, and “lived” on the west coast for almost three years, I never moved my permanent address from that little corner of the globe.  All that changed in May, when due to an unfortunate change in my life, I decided to make a change of residence as well, and moved 300 miles south to New Orleans.  

The move made sense, as my work in disaster recovery began with Katrina, and New Orleans is known worldwide for that series of horrific events–the hurricane, the resulting flood, the much-criticized response, and the long recovery that was initially vilified, then in recent years, praised.  There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans is a different city.  There is a new energy there, a new spirit.  It is still New Orleans (I live a half-block behind the French Quarter), but it has a new sense of purpose.  New Orleanians were always proud of their unique, non-conformist city. But now they also take great pride in their resilience–their ability to come back, to rebuild, and the measures taken to ensure that the multiple tragedies that occurred never happen again.  

Hurricane Isaac tested that claim, and although it was not as powerful as Katrina, it’s persistence would have resulted in much worse damage before New Orleans, and all of us through the U.S. Government, invested in flood protection measures.  Add to that my friend Belinda Little-Wood’s relentless pursuit of a large project to establish THE International Resilience Center at the massive former Naval Support Administration facility near the Bywater area, a bold and attainable quest, and resilience takes on the persona of an economic development initiative.  

Resilience–a theme not only of business commercials on local television, but a central theme of my friend Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s bid for reelection (guess I’m plowing two new rows of ground by saying I’m politically Independent but think Mitch has done a terrific job and I am absolutely supporting him).  Yes, resilience, or as some  say, resiliency, is a very popular word, and not just in New Orleans.  In fact, it is in danger-danger of quickly moving into the purgatory of any word denoting a great idea that suffers from overuse and, worse, misuse–BUZZWORD.

That fact was made clear in a meeting I recently attended with an executive of one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world in Washington, who cautioned of its overuse and frequent misrepresentation.  His words stung, for the meeting I had requested was to ask for input into the University of Oklahoma’s new International Resilience Institute, which I am honored to be co-developing and implementing.  The Institute will provide practical, hands-on graduate-level certificate training in both resisting to and recovering from adverse events of all types.  

I had met the previous day with representatives of the United Nations and a global foundation, who had given positive feedback and tentative support.  Feeling emboldened and confident, going into the meeting, I was a bit shaken thinking that my client and I had chosen a “buzzword” for such an important initiative.  Later, I realized that was exactly the point of the Institute–to impart knowledge and deepen understanding of exactly what resilience is, and (as importantly) what it is not, in fact, to prevent the word from misuse.  The Institute, working in collaboration with efforts of the UN, other Non-Governmental Organizations, major foundations, and the private sector, should greatly lessen the danger of resilience becoming yet another “B” word.  

Many may not realize that the University of Oklahoma is the home of both the National Severe Storms Research Center (NSSRC) and the National Storm Prediction Center (NSPC). While not under the University’s control, there is a close relationship between these centers, and the University does control the Center for Terrorism and Disaster at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, which deals with emotional damage from these acts. 

As the host of the NSSRC and NSPC, and overseer of the CTD, the University of Oklahoma is ideally suited to launch a comprehensive teaching, research, and development initiative like the International Resilience Institute. The University, commonly known as OU, runs one of the largest continuing education effort in the nation, and reportedly is involved over 70 international continuing education partnerships. OU also owns and administers the Economic Development Institute, widely regarded as the premier economic development graduate education program.

The University of Oklahoma International Resilience institute, abbreviated to OU/IRI, would focus on the major components of disaster and/or disruption resilience, providing classroom instruction, interactive, real-life learning through scenarios and case studies, and applied research & development through the NSSRC and CTD.  The Institute would be funded through a combination of student tuition fees, grants, and corporate support.  A curriculum is now being developed by a prominent national leader in disaster recovery, and a website is under development.  Watch for more to come on this very exciting initiative, which has an ambitious agenda to hold its first session in the fall of 2014.  

Hopefully, OU/IRI and other efforts by colleagues throughout the disaster and disruption universe will ensure that this tremendously important word–Resilience–that can mean so much to so many, does not become relegated to the wasteland of the buzzword.  Economies, physical assets, and indeed lives. are at stake.  Stay tuned for more on OU/IRI, economic and social recovery, and, yes, RESILIENCE.   


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From the Tragedy of Sandy to a Better Tomorrow for the East Coast

Like most Americans, and many around the world, I have been glued to my television, laptop, and phone as the tragic events of the past seven days have unfolded.  As with Katrina, Sandy wrought unprecedented destruction to an area not as accustomed to such events as we on the Gulf Coast.  Our hearts, and prayers, go out to the victims and everyone who has suffered.  We understand, more than most, the helplessness and hopelessness that comes over even the most resilient people when faced with such devastation.  

However, there IS hope, and our friends in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and surrounding states can take comfort that fellow citizens in other regions of the U.S. are coming back from the abyss and are rebuilding stronger and wiser.  Hurricane Issac was not as powerful as Katrina, but it took almost the same path and directly hit New Orleans, with one big difference:  this was not the same relatively unprotected New Orleans as in 2005.  The storm surge protection system, as costly as it was, proved to be a good investment.  

Less visible was the investment in business continuity and resiliency planning that greatly shortened recovery time for both businesses and people.  No doubt, the damage was still significant, particularly to the power grid, and recovery is still occurring.  But, it was a far cry from the utter catastrophe of seven years ago.  Business resiliency efforts, from business continuity and resiliency strategies offered by my colleague Bonnie Canal, to a unified master plan that included resiliency efforts across many disciplines, helped greatly to reduce the amount of both losses and heartache.  

My long-time acquaintance Richard Florida, famous for touting the benefits of dynamic cities, has written an excellent article in The Atlantic Cities on why NOW is the time for extensive resiliency efforts on coastal cities worldwide (see  http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/11/making-our-cities-more-resilient-cant-wait/3758/)   Of particular interest are the maps, provided by OECD, showing the exposure of both people and business activity to future climate events.  In short, the numbers are massive.  

Certainly, cities not recently affected should plan for both response and recovery BEFORE the next storm hits.  However, those along the U.S. eastern coast have no reason not to begin NOW to begin recovery strategies that maximize the pace of reinvestment AND build initiatives to greatly increase resiliency.

Our experience on the Gulf Coast, particularly the Gulf Coast Business Reinvestment forum, can serve as a useful framework for recovery and resiliency efforts.  Bringing together economic development, civic, business, and political/policy leadership from all affected states, with participation by cabinet-level department and agency heads, resulted in a concise framework for action.  This effort began not two weeks after Katrina struck.  By the time it was held, efforts were already underway, leaders were seeing what worked and what didn’t, and visions of the extent of damage to both property and business activity were clear.  

The Forum addressed six issues of common concern, and was conducted in a Charrette format, with working groups for each issue and facilitation by experts familiar with each.  Each group operated in a framework trademarked as “Strategic Doing” by my former partner Ed Morrison, with three simple questions as guideposts:  1.  What could we do together (clearly defining the issue and possible solutions); 2. What should we do together (prioritizing and testing potential solutions); 3. What will we do together (developing concise, clear action steps to implement solutions); and 4. When will we get back together (how do we follow up and continue progress)?  The groups then came back together and reported their results to the entire forum for feedback and adoption.  

This framework could be used successfully by New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina to develop recovery and resiliency initiatives.  Lessons learned from other coastal major population centers hit by hurricanes could also be inserted into recovery and resiliency efforts.  Whatever the structure, the timing is critical–and these efforts need to begin RIGHT NOW.  Hopefully, with strong, built-in initiatives for resiliency, this opportunity to Recover a Better Future from this level of devastation in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and neighboring states will indeed be a “Once in a Lifetime” event. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Help for Two Economies Dependent on Productivity Gains and Exposed to Disaster Losses: The Island Nations Maritime Partnership

I just downloaded two great McKinsey reports, one on Indonesia, one on Vietnam.  Both economies are dependent on productivity growth to prosper and maintain stability.  Both are also very exposed to loss from natural and man-made disasters.  The Pacific Maritime Partnership, which includes safer vessels, maritime training, and disaster resiliency, is an answer to at least part of that problem.  A briefing on the partnership, of which I am a principal, follows:

The Island Nations Maritime Partnership


The Sunrise Trade Network, Inc. is promoting development of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Project involving US, Australian, and Pacific Island interests to strengthen the maritime capability of Pacific Island nations. It would focus on three areas: safe marine infrastructure; disaster relief and economic recovery, and ferry and boat construction. The initial emphasis would be on Papua New Guinea. Later work might involve other Pacific nations such as Guam, Kiribati, Solomon Islands etc. Aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector through economic development organizations would be asked to finance public/private interest elements.


PacificIsland nations, especially PNG, depend heavily on ferries and smaller craft (e.g. launches, banana boats) for the transport of produce and equipment, tourists and local families around their coastlines. This infrastructure is in need of major upgrading. The reasons put forward by third parties are:

  • Vessels are either unseaworthy or unsuitable in heavy seas.
  • Overcrowding due to lack of capacity and poor ticketing systems.
  • Inadequate safety equipment, navigational aids and training.
  • Poor servicing of engines and equipment.
  • Weak regulation and monitoring of the industry’s performance.

The sinking of the Rabaul Queen in 2012 (around 300 dead) brought these issues into sharp relief. There are other precedents, and many smaller unreported events.   A considerable amount of local effort is going into addressing the above problems. However we believe this would be further enhanced by the facilitation of partnerships with world-class companies operating in places like Louisiana in the US and Cairns and Darwin in Australia.   The feasibility study would be undertaken by the Sunrise Trade Network, Inc. a Louisiana-based 501c3, and will be based around a visit to PNG by a small mission from companies, instructors on maritime safety snd standards, plus disaster resiliency expertise, all furnished by the regional economic development organizations South Louisiana Economic Council in the U.S.; and Cairns and Darwin regional economic development organizations.

Project has three parts

1. Safe Maritime Infrastructure:  This part would assess the nature of the problem and determine best options on possible roles for US and Australian companies working in partnership with PNG interests. Suggestions might also be offered on the scope for the development of PNG repair yards and ship chandlers, improved ticketing and management systems, inferred navigational tracking systems, early disaster detection and warning systems etc.

2. Disaster Relief & Economic Recovery:  Papua New Guinea is prone to natural-caused disasters including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, cyclones, river flooding and coastal erosion and landslides. Indeed the considerable work underway in disaster relief is to be applauded. The particular relevance is that the Louisiana authorities have developed world standing in this field due to its Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. This followed on from longstanding work in the Gulf of Mexico servicing oil and gas facilities. As a result, Sunrise members have particular expertise in disaster relief, damage surveillance and assessment, and economic recovery programs involving technical assistance programs on finance and accounting, marketing and advertising, business development, small business incubators, micro-finance, etc.

3. Ferry & boat construction  The third part would focus on upgrading the marine fleets in the region via the development of a local marine construction industry.  PNG has a world-class timber resource, an artisan tradition in some areas, competitively-priced labor and a familiarity with boats. While wooden vessels may no longer be looked upon as ‘world class’ vessels in the eyes of the global market, the internal fittings are usually laced with wood product in order to soften the surroundings of long suffering seafarers. We would like to explore this as a potential niche market for PNG.  Recent investigations have sparked our interest in the potential for a new boat design that could be the basis for local manufacturing, based on local sea, climate and market needs. Our thinking is as follows:

  • Large-scale manufacture of half cabin launches could deliver a safe, robust and relatively low-cost product for the market (perhaps in the $US20,000 – $US30,000 range) and that aid funds could be very legitimately applied to subsidizing the cost to local villages.
  • The supply of US-manufactured outboard engines might be a further element, together with joint ventures in respect of repairs and servicing.
  • Marketing and distribution might be assisted by US companies, many of which have the channels and know-how in this field. However the local knowledge of PNG and possibly Australian firms will be vital.
  • In terms of governance, the main options appear to be (i) local ownership, (ii) foreign ownership, or (iii) joint ventures between existing companies. The study would assess these options, interview some of the potential players and relay their views and concerns on matters like IP arrangements, profit sharing, ownership and control, legal issues, export assistance.

Such an initiative could be the basis for a very interesting and beneficial PPP arrangement. The study could also evaluate the use of a PPP approach for the leasing of newer ferries from international fleets.


The aim would be to begin the feasibility study by mid 2012, enabling a progress report to be given at the Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum in late 2012, to which US representatives would be invited.  Should the project prove viable, further funding would be sought through partnerships between USAID/AusAID, Major NGOs in the region, and the private sector via the South Louisiana Economic Council and similar organizations in Australia.

Project partners

The Project would only involve companies of the highest standing; those with empathy with different cultures and commercial systems, a track record of fair dealings, and patient capital. A methodology would be developed to identify such companies.


The cost of the feasibility study is estimated at $US100,000.  The study would in turn identify the cost of the full feasibility study, together with some funding options. For example, assuming the study points to substantial net benefits for PNG, a mix of bilateral and multilateral aid may be possible.  The fundamental difference between this Project and many others is that the feasibility study is designed to prove out a concept that draws in private sector partners to develop commercially viable operations based around collaborative principles. Once proven in PNG, the project, and variations of it dependent on need, can be taken to island nations worldwide.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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…..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forget the Myan Prophesy–The REAL Threat in 2012 is the Potential Impact Disasters in Developing Nations Can Have on the Teetering Global Economy

All nations face increasing risks from natural and man-made disasters.  The past three years have seen consecutive record economic losses from these events.  In Developing Nations, where reinsurance giant Swiss Re estimates climate risks could cost some countries as much as 19 percent of annual GDP by 2030, these risks are acute.  The 2011 floods in Thailand show clearly that those impacts can have enormous secondary effects.  With the global economy already in turmoil, we can scarcely afford these disruptions.

To meet these challenges, a variety of new financial innovations are arising from what some may see as strange bedfellows: the insurance/reinsurance industry, large non-governmental organizations (NGOs), substantial private foundations, developed nation aid ministries, and governments of developing nations themselves.  These public-private partnerships, or PPPs as they are known, have the potential to change the dynamics of disaster impacts for the better.

Swiss Re, the Swiss reinsurance giant, has published a number of works on climate risk and impacts on developing nations.  In their Blueprint for Managing Climate Risks in Emerging Markets, Swiss Re proposes the development of collaborative risk transfer arrangements involving the public and private sectors, including catastrophe bonds (CAT bonds).  CAT bonds transfer risk to the financial markets by allowing governments to issue bonds to cover potential losses from low-frequency, high-impact events. They work like any insurance policy–if the event does not occur, the bonds are not activated and the purchasers receive a return.  If the event does occur, and they are activated, the cost of borrowing is much less than if that government had waited until after the disaster to borrow for recovery.

In 2009, the Mexican Government entered a risk transfer transaction to cover $290 million in potential losses (see http://treasury.worldbank.org/bdm/pdf/Handouts_Finance/Financial_Solution_MultiCat.pdf ) from hurricanes and/or earthquakes using a CAT bond formula that triggered payouts according to pre-defined criteria.  After the April 4, 2010 earthquake in Baja California, I helped develop a long-term recovery strategy for that devastated rural area.  The rebuilding of communities destroyed by that 7.2 magnitude quake would have no doubt taken longer had reconstruction funds not been immediately available, and the Mexican government would have no doubt paid a higher cost for recovery activities.

Other innovative risk management and transfer mechanisms are being developed by insurers, NGOs like the United Nations and World Bank, plus foundations such as OxFam.  One of the most interesting is the Weather Index Insurance program, or HARITA, which provides crop-loss insurance for farmers in exchange for their own work, engaging them in locally designed crop irrigation, reforestation, and other initiatives.  Another innovation is the Turkish Catastrophe Insurance Pool, which in this middle-income nation combines incentives for property owners to invest in earthquake resilience measures, with the World Bank by providing reinsurance-style funding guarantees at very favorable terms.

Microinsurance is also becoming a very popular way to reduce overall risks by making very small policies available to large numbers of low-income people.  In many developing nations partnerships are being developed to subsidize or provide reinsurance to microinsurance programs.  Other programs have multiple benefits.  In Malawi, a drought-prone Southern African nation, the World Bank and Swiss Re joined to provide protection from damage to corn crops as a result of prolonged dry conditions, measured by a pre-determined index.  Not only does this protect financial interests of small farmers, it reduces the probability of widespread hunger, and the political unrest that can follow, due to shortages of this staple food.

All of these measures, along with both pre-disaster and post-disaster strategic planning that produces both more resilient regions and more effective, sustainable economic recovery, help transfer risk and reduce loss.  According to Swiss Re Chairman of Global Partnerships Martyn Parker, “in the countries we (Swiss Re) have studied, between 40% and 70% of expected disaster losses can be cost-effectively averted if you put in the fundamental preparations beforehand”.  In these economic times, reducing a potential 19% loss in GDP by 70% through better planning and innovative risk transfer doesn’t just make sense, it’s a necessity.  Thankfully, a lot of very smart people are working on just that.

The key, of course, is to have the right ways to share these ideas, coordinate these efforts, and serve as a connection between the developing world, those working to reduce/transfer risk, and the global financial marketplace.  I, along with my partners in the Sunrise Trade Network and Cockatoo Network, hope to play a role in making those connections.  We’re about 400 strong, based in both developed and developing nations around the world, and know how to bring disparate groups together to collaborate and succeed. By working with the insurance/reinsurance industries, foundations/NGOs, and governments, we can indeed make a difference.

With the global economy already teetering, we can scarcely afford NOT to act.  Let’s just hope enough people get that message……or 2012 could be remembered for things far worse than the end of the Myan calendar…..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment