Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters

16 Jun 17 12:10

"The hurricane will never hit my house."
"The meteorologists have no idea where the storm is going." 
"What's the worst that can happen?" 

I was born and raised in Florida. I lived through the infamous wrath of Andrew (1992), Katrina (2005), and Wilma (2005). I moved to NYC in 2010 and Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012) followed me up the East Coast. I have a story about each of these storms that shaped my interest in hurricane forecasting and helped strengthen my desire to make the world more resilient at Swiss Re.

At four years old, I got my first taste of hurricanes in Florida, its name was Andrew. I had no idea a hurricane was coming until my mom woke me up in the middle of the night to move my sister and I into a room without windows. All I remember is the howling wind and my parents shrieking, telling us how trees were parading down the streets like they were twigs. Although we lost a few trees, the damage was fairly minimal around Palm Beach County.

I do remember, however, the next month in my kindergarten class, I met a girl named Sarah who had just moved from Miami. She shared why she had to move at "show and tell" – her old house was completely destroyed! Her family lost everything. I remember her sharing that animals from the zoo somehow ended up in her backyard. 

Every year in grade school, we learned how to prepare for a hurricane. We missed a few days of school every year due to hurricane threats (similar to snow days up north). 

At age seven, my family moved to Parkland, Fla., in Broward County. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma ripped through my town, bringing everything to a halt for at least a month. My family had to collect water and supplies at a FEMA station weekly due to contaminated water and lack of power. 

While pursuing my meteorology degree at Penn State, I interned at the Hurricane Research Division and spent several days at the National Hurricane Center during the summer of 2008. There I learned we have government organizations that try to save lives and make sure communities are prepared. See NHC's mission and vision and Learn about HRD.

When I saw the initial forecast tracks for Sandy in 2012, I started to prepare based off of my experience. My friends and family thought I was crazy. After Sandy passed through the New York area, I fortunately had power and my apartment became a hotel. No one made fun of me at that stage when they ate my food and used my flashlights to navigate the dark city. My roommate and I hosted more than a dozen friends and family. 

The moral of my story is: Once you hear a meteorologist say there is even a small chance a storm will hit your town, prepare! Hurricane forecasting is hard; all it takes is one little shift in the jet stream and the storm could be headed your way. 

Educate yourself. Prepare. And be safe this hurricane season!

Category: Climate/natural disasters

Location: NYC, NY, United States

1 Comment

Alicia Montoya - 17 Jun 2017, 8:04 a.m.

Thanks, Beth. I find it endlessly fascinating how quickly we can forget what nature can do when it throws its full force at us (and if we believe UNPCC climate experts, "we ain't seen nothin yet"). So preparation is key indeed!

I grew up in San Francisco in the late 70s and early 80s, during which time I lived through a number of big earthquakes. One caught me in a skyscraper downtown and I will never forget staring in desbelief as neighboring towers swayed right up against the tower I was in, and then swayed away, like seaweed.

What was amazing was how flexible those structures were. California building codes at the time were already advanced, but the key focus was to protect the lives of those in the building.

Major earthquakes can lead to significant financial costs (eg demolition, repair and restoration of utilities). And there are indirect losses too! Business interruption, the loss of culture, sense of community and quality of life can impact communities and hinder recovery for years / decades after an earthquake.

Today, companies are actually looking at earthquake resilience – the ability of an organization or community to quickly recover after a future large earthquake and minimize financial losses.

The latest is 181 Fremont "the most resilient tall building on the West Coast of the U.S." Check it out:

The building has been awarded the REDi™ Gold Rating, a new earthquake resilience rating, developed by design company Arup & a team of external collaborators. The REDi™ system, is "a Resilience-based Earthquake Design Initiative Rating System, that describes design and planning criteria to enable owners to resume business operations and provide liveable conditions quickly after an earthquake, according to their desired resilience objectives".

So I agree with you, Beth, it is critical that we as individuals prepare. As a kid, I remember earthquake drills all the time, and even my dog knew to get under the dining room table when the earth started rumbling! But the moral of *my* story is that we also need to build resilient infrastructure and design systems holistically so as to recover quickly. So here's to boosting our smart infrastructure spend! It'll create jobs and make our world safer, more efficient and sustainable.

And I include natural infrastructure too! Check out this latest report by Lloyd's and the Nature Conservancy on how coastal wetlands have been proven to protect coastline properties by slowing waves and reducing flooding:

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