The aftermath of Hurricane Matthew
“The only safe ship in a storm is leadership.”
– Faye Wattleton
In the dawning days of October, Hurricane Matthew entered the Bahamian chain of islands as a category three tempest. For the next few days, Matthew pulverized the archipelago, only sparing the islands of Eleuthera and Abaco. The residents of North Andros and Grand Bahama were extraordinarily devastated and, although this was the most ferocious hurricane to visit us in almost 90 years, not a single death was attributed to the hurricane.
In part one of this series, we addressed the commendable efforts that were exerted in preparing our citizens for the potentially devastating destruction that could have developed and the resulting attentiveness that our citizens paid to such warnings. We also noted the extensive infrastructural damage that resulted from Matthew and the prolonged disruption of power and water service that many experienced in its aftermath.
Last week, we reviewed some of the government’s proposals to address the recovery and restoration effort, including the possible imposition of a hurricane tax and the government’s decision to borrow $150 million, as well as a consideration of a national lottery to defray the recovery costs
This week, we would like to Consider this… In the wake of the devastation experienced by Hurricane Matthew, what proactive measures can we take in the future to prepare for hurricanes?
There are several things that we can do to improve on our preparations for and responses to hurricanes.
First, as we previously suggested, a comprehensive review should be conducted to determine what steps should be taken to improve our preparedness and post-hurricane recovery protocols. This will assist the nation in determining which things worked and which did not. This will inform public policy about what legislative and administrative actions should be implemented to improve our state of preparedness and to ameliorate the restoration routines.
Secondly, legislation should be enacted to enable the government to issue mandatory evacuation orders to persons who are at risk of losing their lives or being injured during such hurricanes.
Third, we need to assess the state of our hurricane shelters to determine whether they should be better equipped, fortified and provisioned to accommodate persons who are mandatorily evacuated.
Fourth, early in the hurricane season we should undertake a systematically sustained tree-trimming program to ensure that telecommunication and electricity lines are not easily compromised by trees and their branches that, in a storm, contribute to the interruption of those services.
Fifth, we should establish a permanent disaster recovery fund as part of the annual budget exercise to ensure that funds are specifically budgeted and immediately available to be allocated to persons affected by natural disasters.
Sixth, we should review and revisit our building code to enhance the structural integrity of residential and commercial buildings. If building permits are granted for homes or commercial enterprises that are situated on coastal shorelines, they should be granted with special consideration to their exposure to storm surges and ferocious winds. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, it was patently clear that buildings with steel roofs performed better than shingle, asphalt or other roofing systems. In addition, there was considerable interruption of domestic water for many residents. Consequently, consideration should seriously be given to providing incentives to encourage consumers to adopt more secure roofing systems and for installing efficient water catchment systems, especially for homeowners, a practice that was very prevalent in older houses in The Bahamas.
Seventh, given the extensive interruption of electrical power and the deplorable performance by the power company, we should implement a national energy policy that includes encouraging households and businesses to convert to alternative energy systems, especially solar energy, to minimize the costs associated with the loss of this essential service.
Eighth, given the urgent need for recovery and restoration funds, the government should now announce that it will postpone Junkanoo Carnival next year and that the funds that were earmarked for that festival will be diverted to the hurricane relief effort. The funds invested in that festival will greatly contribute to augmenting the national disaster reserve previously mentioned.
Ninth, government should seriously consider establishing strategic oil reserves to ensure that, if, for any reason whatsoever, we are adversely affected by a natural disaster, there would be sufficient oil reserves to fuel the national economy.
Tenth, legislation should be enacted to ensure that retail merchants are discouraged and penalized if they engage in price gouging practices both before and in the aftermath of national disasters.
Finally, fully cognizant that we live in a hurricane corridor, and given that the hurricane season lasts six months of the year, in the intermediate and long term, we should seriously consider undertaking a massive infrastructural program to radically revamp our telecommunications and electricity delivery system by placing those lines underground.
It is instructive that Bermuda far more impressively weathered the effects of Hurricane Nicole, a category four hurricane that directly hit that island one week after Matthew landed here. All of the essential services were restored days after Hurricane Nicole departed that island. One of the contributing factors for Bermuda’s success was its impressive investment in infrastructure that drastically reduced property damage and ensured a more rapid recovery period. Bermuda was open just days following Hurricane Nicole’s passage.
Conclusion: A more considered approach
As we previously observed, we must adopt a more deliberate, considered approach as to how we prepare for and respond to national disasters.
There are two incontrovertible realities: While in many ways we have been blessed by our geographical position, it is still true that we live in a zone with a hurricane season that lasts six months, from June 1 to November 30. Given this reality and the reality that global climate change is producing more and more adverse effects for those of us in this region, the potentially devastating threats from and effects of hurricanes on our archipelago will vastly increase.
Therefore, while we must hone our hurricane preparedness protocols, greater care, consideration and attention must be paid to our preparation and post-hurricane recovery efforts. We need to engage in a sober, brutally honest post-mortem of our past hurricane experiences and implement national policies that are not reactionary, knee-jerk responses, but bi-partisan policies that are more considered, informed and empirically grounded.
Anything short of such an approach will surely result in digging a deeper hole in our national foundation, year after year, from which it could take many decades to emerge.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected].