While Cayman’s white sand beaches and sunshine conjure a sense of tranquility, the islands’ business leaders must remember to prepare for rainy days.
A multi-faceted hazard management workshop at the Grand Cayman Marriott sent a reminder to businesses Wednesday to stay on guard against a myriad of threats, both human and environmental. Between hurricanes and cybercrime, Caribbean companies face a laundry list of concerns.
“The Caribbean has become extremely vulnerable. Hackers think we are very relaxed, man, that sun and fun is all we do,” said Jennifer Nugent-Hill, director of governmental and community affairs for Tropical Shipping.
Ms. Nugent-Hill implored companies to think of the unthinkable and reformulate their business plans to account for regional threats.
Simon Boxall of Hazard Management Cayman Islands shared statistics from Hurricane Ivan as a reminder of the immense economic and social threat posed by Mother Nature.
He said more than 10,000 people left the islands after Ivan, many of whom did not return. When water and power sources fail, Mr. Boxall said it is only a matter of time before companies begin outsourcing their labor.
“Businesses that don’t prepare end up going to the wayside,” he said, pointing to six hotels that permanently shut their doors after the 2004 storm.
Mr. Boxall encouraged the islands to improve the way they measure storm threats to include not only the wind impact but also water surge.
“The sea could come and fill a house to the ceiling. A lot of people don’t realize that” he said.
Retired University of the Virgin Islands professor Roy Watlington emphasized the importance of cross-community collaboration to prepare the Caribbean against environmental threats, including hurricanes, volcanoes and tsunamis.
“We have to look out for each other and share in our preparedness activities,” he said.
He contrasted the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, which claimed at least 230,000 lives, with a similar disaster in 2011 in Japan that took 19,000. While both cases had a substantial death toll, they demonstrate the varying degrees of disaster.
“Survival was greatest in communities that had cultural remembrance of tsunamis. In general, lack of knowledge caused tremendous loss of life in 2004,” he said.
Similarly, Mr. Watlington said the Caribbean can benefit from past storms by sharing lessons learned.
Once businesses have survived environmental disaster, management must also contend with the threat of cybercrimes.
KPMG cybersecurity principal Micho Schumann said CEOs must now ask the tough questions about digital threats to protect client data.
“Cybersecurity now lies with management. The days of pushing this down to IT are long. I used to meet with clients and the first person I was directed to was the IT director. However, now I come to meetings and I meet with the CEO and the IT director,” he said.
“We’re not isolated. We’re not in a vacuum. Organizations in the Caribbean are just as vulnerable as companies in the States or anywhere else in the world.”
Tropical Shipping’s Mark Chapman said the takeaway from the day came from the importance of leadership to tackle complex modern threats.
“The most important thing, and this is really the subject of today’s meeting, is leadership and the unified leadership between the private and public sector.”