Diplomatic Notes

Lessons from Hurricane Dorian

Every life experience is an opportunity. Some experiences are trials, some are defeats, some are victories – but no matter what the experience is, there is always a lesson and an opportunity to grow and become better. Some people see the problem in every opportunity while others see the opportunity in every problem. The impact of Hurricane Dorian is almost impossible to understate in a nation like The Bahamas. We have been through many storms and survived them all with no major loss of life and without catastrophic damage of the proportions we have seen in this storm. We have a right to be stunned, shaken, distraught, dismayed and even depressed. What we cannot do, no matter how we feel, is to remain dismayed and distraught to the point where we do not learn what needs to be learned, and prepare for the future.

There may never be another storm like this in our lifetime but there is no certainty about that. The law of averages from previous decades indicated that storms like these come to a region in intervals of 50 years or more – perhaps even 100 years. Unfortunately, the planet has changed, and the intensity and frequency of storms are now much more uncertain in an era of global warming. It generally appears that these types of storms will increase in frequency and if this is the case it means another storm might be sooner than later. With that specter in mind, how do we process what happened and what do we do about the future with awareness of the new realities of nature?

From my position as a leader and person of influence, I have come up with some lessons I believe are important for our contemplation of the future of our beloved Bahamas. Perhaps this list will be strategic and helpful to persons from all levels. I am sure others have thoughts they have or will address on these subjects – but in the absence of information that may have already come to light, here are my thoughts on the lessons from this event:

• Prepare differently: I have determined in my mind that I will prepare differently for future storms. No longer will I take for granted that storms will be gone in a day and life will get back to normal. This storm rose from a tropical storm to a Category 5 in a matter of days. From this point, when I hear the word “storm” my checklist comes out and my preparations begin. The traditional essential supplies will no longer be purchased last minute, at the beginning of hurricane season. I will have my hurricane supplies set aside. Every year I will pull out my hurricane shutters and check for wear and tear and make sure they are in good condition.

• Build differently for stronger storms: Whether an official change in the building code is made, based upon what happened during Hurricane Dorian, building for winds of 150 miles per hour (mph) is inadequate, so we have to look at surviving 180 mph winds. I am sure it means greater expense and may not happen overnight, but this is something we must consider because it is a present reality, or at least a present and future possibility. One of the important notes from this storm is that homes on stilts near the water had a much higher survival rate, so whenever we rebuild, this should be a mandatory consideration going forward.

• Develop a catastrophic survival plan: As I listened to the stories of survivors, I realized that in most cases there was no catastrophic survival plan. One lady shared about how she improvised as her home collapsed – let’s try this room, maybe the bathroom, then the bathroom is compromised – let’s go into the car or truck. The storm forced many to survive based on instinct rather than a strategic plan. Another family spoke of being in the storm, seeing the water rise and then making a decision that during the eye of the storm they would seek shelter in a nearby building that was stronger. I believe the plan needs to shift to what are the options based upon the storm’s projected strength and rainfall or storm surge levels. I believe we all need to research and determine if our home is flood-prone.

What happens if the roof comes off?

Which room is the go-to survival room?

Is the car a viable option?

Whatever the scenario, advance planning for catastrophic events has become essential. In the last three years alone, somewhere in this region there has been a Category 5, so we cannot assume that it will not happen to us.

• Stock new survival items: In The Bahamas I have never heard of people stocking life jackets in their home or having an inflatable raft, but after this recent storm these things become a consideration depending on where you are living. I heard that one person in the storm decided to stock a backpack with all of their essential papers including passport and other documents, which allowed them to strap on the backpack and wade into the water with the essential survival items in the pack on their back so that when the storm ended they had water, some non-perishable food items and their travel documents. There are probably a number of items to add to this list, but the idea of a survival backpack is a sensible and wise consideration.

• Evacuation plans: The word “evacuation” has new meaning to many now. Many were advised to evacuate; they did not and paid the price. There are areas where evacuation advice is automatic but in this storm many of the areas not deemed as evacuation zones required evacuation mid-storm. As we go into the future, thought must be given to whether we should identify potential evacuation sites before the storm and also during the storm.

What is the plan if our home is destroyed?

What is the alternative site to go to and how do we get there during the storm or in the eye of the storm?

Some persons in the storm did not have any idea of what the alternative sites and methods of getting there were.

Jesus made some interesting statements about storms found in the book of Matthew. He talked about the need for a strong foundation, both a spiritual and physical foundation on what he called the “rock”. As a believer, I trust these words are of vital importance to our survival not just of the physical elements of a storm but the spiritual elements, as well. Matthew 7:24-27 – “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

I have found the words of Jesus to be relevant and powerful in my life and they have successfully taken me through the storms I have experienced over the years.

Regardless of what happened or didn’t happen to you during the passage of Dorian, it is clear that we have vital lessons we should have learned that will prepare us for the next “big” one, whether it is a physical or spiritual storm or battle.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.

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