Hurricane experts: Know your risks in storms

Several workshop speakers at the
National Hurricane Conference in Orlando had a similar message: know your

Lucien Canton, an emergency management
consultant from San Francisco, likened disaster risk analysis to having a game
plan in sports and “knowing your enemy”.

“If you don’t know what you’re
up against, you won’t do a very effective job,” he said. “Many companies
come up with plans and practice them without really knowing why.”

Canton said that risk was relative
and what was considered a risk for some people was not considered a risk for
others. He also noted that risks could come from surprising places.

“It’s not always the big
things that will cause problems,” he said, noting that some things that
happen with low frequency can have a high impact. To properly plan for risk, localities
and organisations should conduct vulnerability assessment to every conceivable

“If you do a good job of
analysis of the hazards, you should be getting a good idea of what’s the
absolute worst that can happen to you,” he said.

Canton noted that risk is something
that is always looking toward the future.

“Once it happens, it is no
longer risk; it’s actually already happened.”

There is also a difference between
actual risk and perceived risk, Canton noted.

“With Y2K there was very
little actual risk but a lot of perceived risk,” he said, noting that the
public’s perception of risks often changes after events.  For example, he said, few people in the
United States thought of tsunamis as a real risk until after the Asian tsunami
in 2004.

Grenada’s National Disaster
Coordinator Benedict Peters said many lessons were learned after that island
nation’s experiences with Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Emily in
2005.  In addition to having risks of
hurricanes in an area that is only supposed to get about two per cent of
Atlantic Basin cyclones, Peters said Grenada also learned it had to prepare for
man-made risks.

“After Ivan, there was a
looting spree that cost millions of dollars,” he said. “You need to
know your hazard, know your vulnerability to those hazards and what to do to
reduce the vulnerability.”