Private sector praised for storm preparedness
World Bank executives say storms in the Caribbean wreak damage of up to 2.0 per cent of output, annually, but they also see signs that large businesses are serious about preparedness.
The current hurricane season started officially on Saturday, June 1.
Some companies have redundancy built into their operations. Cable & Wireless hosts data centres outside the hurricane belt. Massy Group, a conglomerate with multiple businesses across the region, has crafted its logistics to keep humming. And LIAT reroutes its data.
Those and other examples of regional preparedness have earned kudos from the World Bank.
“There is a lot of sophistication in what you are doing, and I think other sectors and companies can learn a lot,” said Ming Zhang, practice manager of the World Bank, in a panel discussion at the Caribbean Risk Conference that wrapped up Friday in Barbados.
He added that the regional operations of these companies provide an ideal platform to spread risk.
“The Caribbean in some ways is ahead of many other regions,” Zhang said.
Outside the discussion, Zhang, whose remit covers urban development and disaster risk management in the Latin America and Caribbean, told the Financial Gleaner that the average annual loss arising from disasters to the Caribbean falls between 1.0 to 2.0 per cent of GDP. That, he said, gives a “ballpark” level of investment needed for governments or companies to fortify themselves against disasters. It is really important for the private sector to invest in resilience, he stressed.
Jenson Sylvester, country manager and head of the B2B Southern Cluster at Cable & Wireless Barbados, said the telecom charted a path of hurricane trajectories over the last 50 years and placed data centres outside it.
“We built our data centres outside the hurricane belt, in Curacao, Colombia, Panama, and Miami, USA. We also have 42,000 kilometres of fibre optics connecting the region. We have a ship docked in Curacao and it has equipment which can pull up the fibre,” he said.
Brian Reid, manager for health, safety and environment at Massy Barbados, recalled that experiences with hurricanes in Miami forced the company to create alternative logistics routes.
“We developed contingencies on the information received. When the hurricane impacted Miami area, where our shipping was located for our supply chain, we looked to where we can maintain some products from different locations,” said Reid.
LIAT CEO Julie Reifer Jones adds that the carrier, which serves the eastern Caribbean, constantly reassesses its processes following each storm in order to improve its resilience. The primary concern is its aircraft. But LIAT is also concerned about its data systems, which it moved to Trinidad for a period.
“What did not fully work was our passenger information system. When we moved, it worked, but there were gaps and breaks,” she said, adding that adjustments were made to make it more robust.
“The building of redundancy, however, requires resources, and that is one of our challenges at LIAT,” she said.