Hurricanes and Risk – Unexpected Consequences

Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong — will go wrong.  Natural disasters like earthquakes, power outages and hurricanes always seem to prove that this old axiom is still true.

Many people are allergic to change and when their environment starts to change drastically, as it will in a natural disaster — say a hurricane. And when the environment and familiar patterns start to break down, people get anxious, anxiousness turns into nervousness and in a state of anxiety, bad decisions are made.

The continual push to have emergency responders train, train and train some more, the importance of doing drills and testing emergency plans reflects the importance of people feeling COMFORTABLE and FAMILIAR with the disaster operations and steps toward recovery.   Almost every requirement, whether it is for a physical security standard like FEMA 426 (How to Protect Buildings from Terrorist Attacks), to a bank standard like the FFIEC (Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council) the requirements requires disaster plan testing, and training for the personnel who will be affected by the disaster. The better and more frequent the testing and training, the better the plan will perform during an actual disaster.

Stories keep making the rounds about the South Street Seaport outage in lower Manhattan, and the emergency vehicles who raced to the scene and found there was no electricity to plug into. 

If we put aside the original disaster, then you will often find peripheral activities that are thrown off and do not behave as planned.  When I first moved to the DC area, we had a major power outage in the high rise office I off the beltway.  No problem — the building manager had a diesel generator up on the roof.  But he had stored the diesel fuel in the basement, and it was about 88 degrees that day.  He managed to carry the fuel up the 16 flights of stairs to the waiting emergency generator, but he was hot and tired and when he poured the diesel, he slopped it over the side and it spilled down the outside the building and then soaked into the walls, and we had diesel leaking out of the electrical outlets!   If you ever drive by the “Darth Vadar” building right at Route 50 and the Beltway — you can still see the stain on the building.

So when hurricanes are heading west, north and east, all at the same time, it’s a good idea to encourage your associates to breathe deeply, calm down, and take extra time to make sure that things get done correctly. 

One of my friends is leaving Brownsville to get away from Hurricane Ike as I am writing this.  And I had Hurricane Hanna visiting Annapolis less than a week ago.

Stay safe.