How to be disaster-ready for floods, fires and other systemic risks

AON 2016 Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe ReportIf there was a fire nearby your home, would you know what to do? If the river adjacent to you started flooding, what immediate actions would you take? Disaster preparedness is an absolute necessity in a time of increasing catastrophes. While public-private partnerships like Santam’s Partnership for Risk and Resilience (P4RR) go a long way to mitigate systemic risks, it’s up to every individual to proactively prep for possible disasters.

John Lomberg, Head of Stakeholder Relations and CSI at Santam, believes climate change-catalysed systemic risks are on the rise, “With many SA municipalities inadequately resourced to deal with disasters, lots of lives are inevitably impacted, with big implications for the economy. Think of the Knysna fires, cross-country floods and ongoing drought we experienced last year. These catastrophes are only going to increase and we need to be ready for them. Importantly, no community is immune to these risks.”

So what exactly are systemic risks and how can we be ready for them? Here, Lomberg outlines the essentials:

What classifies as a systemic risk? 

A systemic risk is the possibility of an event at micro level that could trigger the collapse or instability of a whole system. Think of the Knysna fires as an example. The municipality’s inadequate resources and lack of co-ordination in its disaster management efforts had enormous implications for the Knysna community, with most sectors impacted.

The part of public-private partnerships in building community resilience against systemic risks:

How could the impact of the Knysna fires have been lessened?

  1. An early warning system triggering the immediate execution of a carefully co-ordinated disaster management plan with all players, including police, traffic, fire-fighters, NGOs, etc. familiar with their roles and openly communicating with each other.
  2. Community-wide education awareness programmes to equip every citizen to mitigate fire risk.
  3. Adequately equipped fire stations.

All these factors combine to build community resilience. And that’s what private-public partnerships like P4RR aim to bolster. The increase in the frequency of disasters usually impacts South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens the most, trapping people in poverty, which places the burden on the state to intervene. One of the issues is that government’s response is often reactive rather than proactive. And that’s where the private sector can play a big part.

By working with 53 municipalities, for example, P4RR applies science and the latest in geo-mapping tech to identify high-risk areas and drive interventions to de-risk these regions to lessen the impact of catastrophes. This includes providing the requisite resources and also training individuals in what they can do to de-risk themselves.

So how does this apply to you? 

No matter who you are, where you live and which community you’re part of, you are vulnerable to systemic risks. In Knysna, many wealthy people and businesses were directly affected, with big losses due to being under- and un-insured. Here are some of the ways to proactively mitigate your own risk:

  1. Be disaster-ready: Participate in a disaster management awareness programme and upskill yourself in disaster-preparedness. Then think of how you can share this knowledge with your neighbours.
  2. It’s all about exposure: Find out which risks you’re most exposed to in your area and equip yourself to deal with these. For example, if you know you’re vulnerable to fire, make sure you trim all the trees near your house.
  3. Tick the basics: Do you have a disaster-ready emergency kit with your passports and other important paperwork and essentials on-hand should you need to leave in a hurry? Is your first-aid kit well equipped?
  4. Be part of your community’s WhatsApp/ social media groups: These are often the easiest way for important messages to spread quickly.
  5. Check your insurance: Are you 100% sure your house and household contents insurance reflect their latest replacement value? Do you have reasonable proof of purchase for all the important items?

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