Hurricane forum urges action

As hurricanes continue to grow stronger and bigger homes are built containing more stuff, people in the Caribbean need to always be prepared.

That was part of the message at a Hurricane Preparedness and Business Continuity Seminar, featuring speakers from the US National Hurricane Center and the Canadian Hurricane Centre held at The Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman last week.

Participants were updated on the latest developments in storm tracking and reminded about all aspects of preparation, including protection of assets and proper insurance.

During his remarks, Director of the National Hurricane Center Bill Read told the audience of about 120 people it is important for them to know basic information, like the flood level of their homes or how much wind speed it could sustain.

“Don’t be reactive. Be proactive … People who move to the tropics from other parts of the world need to be especially conscious of this, as they may not be aware of the real danger,” said Mr. Read.

He added that it was concerning that in some places it was not possible to get a loan without fire protection insurance, but it was possible to do so without flood protection.

“We keep rebuilding in harm’s way, but it is important for realtors and all who are involved in the process to let people be fully aware of the danger they may face. Dangers of flooding, even in minimal storms, is great,” he said.

Fatalities down

Storm fatalities have been going down, Mr. Read said. On on the other hand, damages are increasing, as people are constantly building bigger houses with more things in them; more things create bigger losses.

Mr. Read said people can usually build to code for 2 per cent more of the cost, which would save everyone a lot of money in the event of a storm. However, builders many times lobby to have codes reduced under the pretext that consumers cannot afford it.

“You should be preparing as if every year is Ivan, Andrew, Ike or Gustav,” said the director. Another point is storms form and behave differently the farther north you travel.

David Grimes of the Canadian Hurricane Centre said, “Canada has a big interest in hurricanes. Storms become asymmetrical when the are higher up north and tend to move faster in the Canadian area.”

Better infrastructure needed

He said that enabling communities to build better infrastructure through planning would be the only way of mitigating any loss.

A presentation was also given by Assistant General Manager of British Caymanian Insurance John Cameron, who told the audience that major catastrophes in other countries can in fact affect the price of premiums in the Cayman Islands.

He said this is why it is important to work together in raising the standard of preparedness and infrastructure everywhere.

Mr. Cameron said 2005 set a record for loss to the insurance industry of $120 billion. He added that this record might be broken again in the not-so- distant future, as climate changes and the intensity of storms continue to grow.

“Storms have actually become 50 per cent stronger over the past 30 years,” said Mr. Cameron.

With this in mind, the insurance authority pointed out the usually regional competitiveness can offset any higher costs from world events but explained that in cases of extremely huge losses, everyone’s insurance rates would be affected.