Emily evacuations costly

Some private sector businesses in Cayman paid more than $100,000 to evacuate staff in advance of Hurricane Emily last week.

Law firms and accounting firms were among the companies that chose to evacuate Friday or Saturday before Owen Roberts International Airport closed.

Some companies agonised over whether to leave, while the decision was clear for others early on.

Nick Freeland, senior partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said the decision was not difficult.

‘If the hurricane is Category 3 or above and we’re in the cone (of the storm’s potential path), we’re leaving,’ he said. ‘We’re not prepared to put our people through another major hurricane.’

A chartered flight with about 100 PWC staff and dependents left Saturday.

PWC picked up the whole cost of the flight.

‘I don’t want to think about it,’ said Mr. Freeland when asked how much the final bill for the evacuation would be. ‘It’s a lot.’

One thing that concerns Mr. Freeland and others is the hurricane season has really only begun. With peak hurricane season still a month away, another costly evacuation could occur.

‘We might have to start looking into insurance for this,’ said Mr. Freeland. ‘They offer it for this kind of thing.’

Not all PWC staff evacuated.

‘The plan is optional,’ said Mr. Freeland, who stayed on the island.

Since the PWC charter flight was not scheduled to return until Monday night, only a skeleton staff arrived at work Monday morning, Mr. Freeland said.

But it was business as usual for those who did go to work on Monday.

‘I’ve quite enjoyed the quiet,’ said Mr. Freeland.

UBS Fund Services was another company that evacuated, but its plans for a charter flight fell through, said managing Director Sean Flynn.

‘The charter company had a plane, but no crew to fly it,’ he said.

Instead, UBS got staff out Saturday on a Cayman Airways’ flight to Miami and a British Airways flight to the Bahamas.

Mr. Flynn said UBS had some doubts as to whether to leave.

‘This one was tricky,’ he said.

UBS has criteria similar to PWC, but Emily actually weakened after initial gaining Category 3 strength.

‘When we saw Friday morning it was a Category 2, we started to rethink our decision,’ said Mr. Flynn. ‘Then it strengthened again, but it was predicted to go south and only bring us tropical storm force winds.

‘But we were in the margin of error (for a direct hit), so we decided to leave.

The decision will cost UBS $100,000. The company pays for airfare and hotel accommodations. In the end, some 124 staff members and dependents took advantage of the offer to evacuate.

Mr. Flynn said UBS has no specific budget allocation for hurricane evacuation.

He pointed out that prior to Hurricane Ivan striking last year, there was very little cost associated with the Cayman Islands being in a hurricane zone.

However, if the current trend of frequent storms continues, UBS might have to take the expense of hurricanes into account as a cost of doing business.

‘I hope that’s the end of it this year,’ said Mr. Flynn.

On the plus side, UBS did not lose any working days as a result of its evacuation.

All those who evacuated returned Sunday so that 100 per cent of the staff was at work Monday morning, Mr. Flynn said.

‘I have to give high marks to Cayman Airways,’ he said. ‘They did a charter back for the staff that went to the Bahamas.’

The Walkers law firm also evacuated staff with a charter to Ft. Lauderdale Friday night.

Practice manager Lanta Gillett said Walkers’ evacuation protocol takes effect when a Category 3 hurricane or above has a 20 per cent chance or greater of striking Grand Cayman.

‘It’s not certain we will leave then, but that enacts the charter agreement,’ she said, adding that the charter company requires 24 hours of notice if it is to come here.

‘The partners will then look carefully at all the hurricane advisories before making the final decision,’ Ms Gillett said.

Walkers made a provisional decision to evacuate on Thursday night and a final decision Friday morning she said.

Ms Gillett said the charter company would take those evacuating anywhere, and that Ft. Lauderdale was the choice.

Walkers picks up the tab for part of the evacuation, but the staff does pay a portion, Ms Gillett said.

The Walkers charter returned Sunday night, so it was a regular working day at the firm on Monday.

The same was not true at the accounting firm Ernst & Young.

About half the firm’s employees left Friday night on a charter for Ft. Lauderdale, but they were not returning until late Monday.