Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy Strikes the Mid-Atlantic, Preparedness Pays

Hurricane Sandy battered the mid-Atlantic on Monday, Tuesday and continues to impact a large swath of this country. Airports are closed, although Regan is now open to some traffic and perhaps JFK will open later this afternoon. Atlantic City and southern New Jersey took the brunt of the storm as it landed on shore yesterday at about 6pm eastern time. Winds topped 100mph in Manhattan, buckling a large crane at 157 West 57th Street in Manhattan. It was 1000 feet above the ground. Water gushed into the closed subway system, feet deep, causing the subway system as well as AMTRAK to remain closed today. Buses are expected to perhaps start running later today in Lower Manhattan. The death toll of 29 continues to rise. The HMS Bounty, a ship off the coast of North Carolina capsized and was sunk, as the Coast Guard worked hard to save almost all of the crew, but lost a deck hand and may have lost the captain. The Red Cross with the aid of local authorities is busy setting up shelters in towns and cities throughout the northeast hit by the storm. Electric companies, such as PG&E, from as far out in California, are sending crews in to help get power back online in the neighborhoods. President Obama has signed emergency declarations to enable federal funding to start flowing to the effected 8 states and the District of Columbia.  FEMA is hard at work.

The local police and emergency vehicles patrolled the streets of all impacted cities yesterday urging residents to take shelter before the storm and storm surge hit. The Holland and Brooklyn Battery tunnels closed yesterday at 3pm. After the storm struck, fires broke out in neighborhoods, destroying over 50 homes in Breezy Point, Queens. Falling debris continues to be a problem. Persons were injured in Point Pleasant, N.J. by falling signs. Over 50 feet of the boardwalk at Point Pleasant was destroyed.  Sand from the near-by beaches laid in large lumps blocks inland from the beach, large piles in the road. There is no doubt such storms are causing the erosion of our beaches. The authorities will work to remove and hopefully save that sand. West of the beach, snow continues to fall in West Virginia as the storm moved north and spreads west, at its impeccably slow snail’s pace. For the second time since 1985, the stock market remains closed for the second day. Governor Chris Christie had emptied the casinos in Atlantic City at 4pm Sunday, well ahead of the storm yesterday, giving warnings to evacuate to all over this past weekend. It was only the third time in the gaming industry’s 34 years in New Jersey that the casinos were closed. City wide curfews started taking effects last evening in all major cities. All of our federal, state and local public servants- police, fire, emergency personnel, plus all of the news channels weather crews, have been up helping all to get the information out to brave this storm, including Governors Cuomo, Christie, and Mayor Bloomberg An explosion of a power station in lower Manhattan last evening caused thousands to be without power. Storm surges came over the walls in Battery Park causing cars to slam into one another. Lights remained out last evening in lower Manhattan, and those who chose not to evacuate because they were on the border with Zone A in Manhattan, remained indoors. The NYU Lagone Medical Center needed to evacuate their patients due to the storm surge flooding into Manhattan. Bridges and public transit remain closed. The only bright note reported on the news is that some ski resorts in Western Virginia may open sooner than expected. The cleanup will continue for weeks. Insurance monies will be available to perhaps cover at least 50% of the damage.  

Throughout it all, our Statute of Liberty remains intact, battling the water surges pushing against her. With the power of FEMA, the state and local governments and with the help of non-profit organizations like the Red Cross and the private sector, we will get through this storm, clean up and move forward.  The storm, like many others, will travel north through Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and exit into Canada and eventually out to the North Atlantic. Along its path, the winds will continue to bring down branches and trees, but the rain and potential for widespread flooding is not expected to be as severe as in Irene. Looking back to Irene, a year ago, vs. what occurred yesterday, we can say we are better prepared for these disasters than we were a year ago, and certainly much better prepared than we were in responding to Katrina. The disaster preparedness and response is not only quicker, more efficient and streamlined, but the message is being heeded by the public at large, who are listening, preparing and evacuating when so instructed. We are faster at mobilizing the resources needed to respond, the weather warnings are coming earlier and are being taken seriously by local and state governments disaster respond teams, now in place. And the public is helping, by themselves planning, preparing and following the instructions of our tireless public servants.  The state of affairs today is that we are accepting these natural disasters as becoming part of our daily lives.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Preparing for Sandy

With Hurricane Sandy getting ready to bear down on the East Coast of the United States, communities up and down the coast are beginning their disaster preparations.  The links below on this page will take you to disaster preparation organizations' websites that will contain helpful information on preparing for a disaster.  Remember go bags, have enough water, batteries, etc.  For businesses, have your emergency call numbers and lists ready for Monday and Tuesday.  Off site facilities for computer operations should be readied.

The idea of disaster preparation is to be prepared and hopefully not have to use the preparation materials and techniques.  Special preparation is needed in this case because of the confluence of three weather systems at the same time making for the potential of a "perfect storm."  Charge up your cell phones and other communication devices on Sunday night.  Have your emergency radio ready to listen Monday morning on status of transportation and power.

The ABA's Tort, Trial & Insurance Practice Section's Task Force on Disaster Preparedness and Response wishes everyone a safe harbor in this upcoming storm. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Disasters and Climate Change

Much has been written about climate change and its real or potential effects on the weather, risk management issues for companies, insurance, oceanfront development, and myriad other issues.  The world's largest reinsurers has just released a study stating that climate change has been the cause of the uptick in natural disasters in North America.  The study, "Severe weather in North America," looked at the period 1980 to 2011 through a comprehensive database of loss data for natural catastrophes.  The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. "Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways."

So if climate change is driving natural disasters in North America, what are we to do in terms of preparedness?  The study suggests the following:  "All stakeholders should collaborate and close ranks to support improved adaptation. In addition, climate change mitigation measures should be supported to limit global warming in the long term to a still manageable level."  Thus, adaptation is necessary to address the increased frequency of weather-related disasters and mitigation measures must be put into effect.  Insurers and policyholders, as well as governments, need to work together to address these issues.  Join the American Bar Association's Section on Tort Trial & Insurance Practice as its Task Force on Disaster Preparedness and Response continues to address all forms of disasters and presses the discussion with all stakeholders to make sure that we are all better prepared for disasters.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Disaster Planning Can Cut Costs

At a World Back conference last week, policymakers discussed how the cost of disaster recovery can be reduced by planning.  "We need a culture of prevention," said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, as the Bank said insurers estimated the economic cost of disasters in the last three decades had topped $3.5 trillion.  "No country can fully insulate itself from disaster risk, but every country can reduce its vulnerability. Better planning can help reduce damage and loss of life from disasters, and prevention can be far less costly than disaster relief and response."

Some of the ideas about planning included  making sure that infrastructure and education in emerging economies should be designed to minimize the human and financial cost of natural disasters.  Having schools serve as disaster shelters by stocking blankets, water, and other supplies worked for come communities in Japan.  Children were drilled regularly on disasters and knew to go up to the roof of the school to avoid the tsunami.

All communities are vulnerable to disaster and what this World Bank discussion is about getting all communities to buy into a culture of disaster preparation.  What are your communities doing to be prepared?

The American Bar Association's Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section is continuing its Task Force on Disaster Preparation and Response for the 2012-13 bar year with plans to publish a book based on its 2012 programming successes, maintain this blog (which you are all welcome to comment upon), and host a series of webinars based on disaster preparedness and response.  We can all join the discussion about how to be better prepared for disasters.