Every year it seems we are hearing stories of larger disasters, incidents occurring more frequently or emerging risks due to sea level rise or climate change. Unfortunately, this is true. The Swiss Re institute reported losses of $337B in 2017 due to natural and man-made disasters, which is seven times higher than just 20 years ago, even when adjusting for today’s dollars. Some of the largest risks we now face are also some of the most likely to occur – Extreme Weather Events, Failure to Adapt to Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Man-made Disasters just to name a few.
What can we do? We can’t stop a hurricane from happening! What we can do is plan, prepare and practice and when we do this right, we can reduce the losses and damage and save lives. There are always ups and downs because the number of fatalities can increase due to a major disaster, but encouragingly, the trend is downward, likely because of better communications, better warning systems and better preparation. A dollar spent in preparation saves 50 or more dollars that would have to be spent on response and recovery, so not only is this a great way to save lives, it can also save our economy from economic ruin and hardship. If we can shrink our losses due to disasters by being better prepared, we can recover and return to normal life faster.
Interestingly, technology has recently begun to play a larger role in disaster preparedness. Computer simulation has become a key tool in ensuring that disaster plans are accurate and will work properly when it matters the most. Similarly, computer simulation is also used to train disaster response personnel, key responders and civil leadership through highly realistic training exercises, so they are prepared to manage and respond to any event. Prior to these tools, the population would just have to cross our fingers and hope for a good outcome, but now that we have a way to train realistically, disaster managers can actually measure progress and see the results of training and preparation efforts. After all, practice makes perfect, and disaster managers, leaders and responders need to do their absolute best to prepare for man-made and natural disasters.
Perfection is something we should strive for – after all, the airline industry has been striving for perfection for years and as a result, flying is now one of the safest forms of travel despite the high speed and long distances involved. We can do the same to disaster preparation. Testing our disaster plans, providing better training and ensuring realistic disaster response practice for our leaders and key staff will direct contribute to live saved, smaller losses and money saved during our next emergency. Why aren’t we doing this now?