Posts Tagged ‘Emotions’

San Andreas, The Movie

Sunday, May 31st, 2015
San Andreas Movie

Summer Blockbuster

It’s the week-end and time for a (not-so-relaxing) movie. San Andreas is expected to be a summer blockbuster and who can resist a movie about a severe earthquake with such an impressive cast and special effects? I loved the actor Paul Giamatti when he played Ben Bernanke in “Too Big To Fail” and loved him even more in the role of the seismologist in this movie. His advice to “Drop, Cover, Hold On” will probably reach more viewers, and maybe save lives, than all of the disaster preparedness public service announcements broadcast to date.  In recent meetings with insurance company clients, this movie became a topic of discussion when one person remarked that fewer than 10 per cent of Californians have earthquake insurance, a figure that is unlikely to change despite the movie’s likely success at the box office.

But we all agreed that the movie both entertained us while raising awareness about the key hazards associated with earthquakes, such as the fires. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused gas pipes to break, thereby starting widespread fires.  The movie plot captures the follow-on fire risk, helpful for those of us who didn’t learn about the San Francisco earthquake in our grammar school history classes.  The movie also shows the fear resulting from the series of aftershocks that follow the earthquake. Earthquake survivors are often stressed out for never knowing how severe the next aftershock will be or when the aftershocks will end. The movie also shows how the earthquake at the San Andreas fault triggers seismic events as far away as Nevada. The special effects and the actors were fantastic.

Perhaps we could persuade the producers to make a sequel? “San Andreas Part 2” could star Dwayne Johnson as he tries to rebuild his life and his local community, following the earthquake. The recovery process goes on for years, leaving him emotionally drained. He finds that half of the small businesses he used to patronize have permanently closed as they could not resume operations following the disaster. And he raises awareness about the vulnerability of our small business economy to severe natural hazards. Actually, the sequel idea is not so far-fetched. In real life, the actor Dwayne Johnson is reported to support charities and causes aiding members of the armed forces. Military veterans are the most entrepreneurial group, as many start their own businesses after completing their service. With such star power, the sequel could raise awareness about the long-term economic consequences of earthquakes, maybe even drawing on the experiences of small businesses devastated by natural hazards.


Even in a Disaster, Take Time To….

Sunday, March 29th, 2009
Smell the Flower

Smell the Flowers

…you know how the saying ends. The current economic crisis is a disaster, not unlike a natural disaster in terms of the stress response it elicits. Your coping mechanisms may feel overwhelmed as you are doing more with fewer resources. Perhaps certain of your clients are struggling in this economy or your bank has cut your credit line, constraining your working capital. Under such pressure, often the response is to work harder and harder to keep up. But you run the risk of burnout – a common condition for small business owners. So do not forget the importance of play.

Stuart Brown is a 76-year old psychiatrist and the author of the recently published book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul (Penguin). Over the course of his career, he has conducted more than 6,000 play studies and reports that the opposite of play is not work, but depression. He worries that many of us are not finding the time to play as the economy makes tougher demands on our resources. Remember that you will not be able to look after those around you if you are depleted and worn down yourself.

I return to work most invigorated after cooking. My recipes have been featured in leading cookbooks and I have completed training at the French Culinary Institute (“FCI”) in New York and both Le Cordon Bleu and the Ritz Escoffier in Paris. At the FCI, I have completed four certificate programs and am about to start my fifth in pastry. I completed a course of study in Artisanal Breadbaking with Master Chef Hans Welke, the basics of culinary training, known at FCI as La Technique I and more advanced culinary training for recipe and menu development, La Technique II, together over 300 hours of training in the commercial kitchens of the French Culinary Institute under the supervision of their master chef instructors. Some of the world’s greatest chefs teach at the FCI, including Jacques Pepin and Alain Sailhac. I also completed a course of study in wine and food pairings at the FCI with Master Somnelier Andrea Immer Robinson.

I suppose this could be my “Plan B”; if everything else fails, I can always find work as a sous-chef. But I see real synergies in the commitment to quality and discpline in classical culinary training and the quality and systems I need to build for my business. Others share my point of view as I have just been scheduled for a photo shoot at the FCI for a feature article on entrepreneurial passions in a major business magazine. I will post it here when it will be published, but you will see that when I am wearing my chef’s uniform, the stress just goes away. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and manage your creative spirit at this difficult time. The break will refresh you and renew your spirit.

Emotions and Redundancy

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
Aircraft Lifted Onto the Barge

Aircraft Lifted Onto the Barge

Following an earlier blog entry, over the weekend, the aircraft for USAirways Flight 1549 was lifted by cranes from the Hudson River where it had submerged and was then placed on a barge for subsequent transport to an area better suited for a long-term investigation. You will note that it is directly adjacent to the World Trade Center site, in the residential community of Battery Park City, where I lived on and after 9-11-01. I am viewing these events from a different vantage point, from directly on the Hudson River on the New Jersey waterfront exactly opposite of where I used to live. The emergency workers have been on duty round the clock, with police boats, helicopters and the Coast Guard maintaining a visible presence. While this accident was thankfully unrelated to the events of 9-11-01, for the residents of this neighborhood, the presence of emergency workers has a certain emotional resonance and frankly, I am glad I am more removed from the scene of the action this time. I had written earlier about dealing with emotions following a disaster, so just knowing that the sight of the police boats and Coast Guard craft were likely to provoke a response from me gave me the ability to mute that response. This is an important insight for anyone who has worked through a major disaster and thankfully, this one ended with no loss of human life.

Drawing on another theme of our preparedness messages, the role of redundant systems is critical. Although the investigation into the cause of the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 has just begun, investigators have already revealed that both engines of the aircraft failed simultaneously. When I lived in Zurich, Switzerland, I would often take short, over-land so-called “City Hopper” flights to London or elsewhere for business. Those aircraft were equipped with four engines, consistent with European safety regulations, rendering negiligible the risk of simultaneous engine failure for all. That safety standard exists in the U.S. only for military aircraft and of course, for cargo aircraft, the redundancy required to mitigate the risk of equipment failure is still lower. As small business owners, the lessons we can draw from this accident include (1) the importance of redundancy to mitigate the risk of equipment failure, (2) the critical importance of employee training as demonstrated by the flawless performance of the airplane pilot and (3) the issues surrounding emotional responses post-disaster.

Leveraging Strength for Ike Evacuees Returning to Galveston

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
Welcome home

Welcome Home

Evacuees returning home to Galveston are just now seeing the devastation inflicted on their homes and businesses by Hurricane Ike. Undoubtedly, they are feeling overwhelmed by the recovery process ahead of them. Having been through a version of that process myself, I can offer words of hope and advice.

First, leverage the strength of your insurance company. Let me explain how that can work in your favor. I returned home to my apartment in the shadow of what used to be the World Trade Center after our neighborhood was closed and evacuated on 9-11-01. For several months I had been homeless as our neighborhood remained under the control of the National Guard, although during that time period, I was once allowed to return home for a half-hour, with a Guardman, to retrieve some personal effects. The Guardsman took neighbors into apartment buildings (once we produced our New York driver’s licenses proving our residency) in groups of five or six. When I came back for good, I contacted an environmental remediation company to remove the soot, ash and other contaminants from my home and my office. The project manager with whom I had spoken said that it would be “months” before he could send a staff person to my property to give me an estimate to perform the work, let alone actually start the work.

I asked if someone could come in the evening, after business hours. The answer was no. I asked about early mornings, before business hours, or on the weekend. The answer was no and no again. With relatively few companies certified to do this work and many thousands of people demanding these services, the queue was very long. And yet this was the critical task before I could safely return home. So I called my insurance company. I hoped that this would be the only major disaster that I would ever have to work through and I would never have to deal with an environmental remediation company again. But insurance companies deal with environmental remediation companies all of the time. They approve payment for these services for their policyholders. They can choose remediation companies as their preferred vendors for certain types of work. So the insurance company had the leverage that I did not.

I explained to the person who answered my insurance company’s CAT line (“CAT” is insurance speak for “catastrophe”) my situation and reminded her that the longer it would take to remediate my home, the longer I could remain in a hotel, which expense was covered by my homeowner’s insurance. She got the point. A few minutes after we concluded our conversation, my cell phone rang. It was the project manager from the environmental remediation company, the same man with whom I had spoken only minutes ago. He advised me to be at my apartment at 7:00 a.m. the next morning so that I could let his team in. At the time I was displaced, I was staying in Jersey City across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Most people commute to Lower Manhattan from Jersey City by the PATH train, but with the World Trade Center PATH train terminus destroyed, we had to take ferry routes that were put in place on an emergency basis. The routes and timetables changed from day to day, as the recovery was underway, so it could take some time to get from where I was staying to my home. Obviously, the project manager didn’t want to waste a trip to my apartment if I could not be there. “Oh,” I said, “you can have someone visit and give me an estimate tomorrow morning?” No, he answered, the insurance company called him on my behalf and he would have a team there to do the cleaning at 7:00 the very next morning.

Some of my neighbors spent months dealing with long waits and negotiating their spot in the queue. This is why you pay for insurance, so get full value for it. By the way, I recommended this tip to someone whose mother lived in Florida through the 2004 hurricane season when she was in the same situation (months and months to get an estimate before any work could be done). He reported that it worked for her as well. Another lesson I learned from 9-11 is that vendors often present the worst-case scenario in terms of service restoration because they would rather err on the side of caution. Then, of course, they look like heroes if they can restore service in a more reasonable time frame. I remember contacting my telecommunications provider to find out when landline service would be restored and was told that it could take months. It was back within two weeks. Bear this in mind when vendors are giving you bad news and don’t let it discourage you.

By the way, the photograph you see here is of the lobby of my apartment building upon our return home when civil authorities re-opened our building. It was quite an experience to return home after an absence to see what had happened to our neighborhood. This is undoubtedly the stress that residents in the footprint of Hurricane Ike are now experiencing.

A Somber Day

Thursday, September 11th, 2008
Towers of Light on the Seventh Anniversary

Towers of Light on the Seventh Anniversary

The seventh anniversary of 9-11 was a somber day. I noticed unusually light traffic, presumably because many people decided to take the day off and remain home with family. The morning began with the sound of bagpipes opening the memorial ceremony. At this point, though, I have the sense that the emotion of anger overwhelms the emotion of grief. Ground Zero remains an open pit, political gridlock having stymied the reconstruction effort which has gone way, way over budget. Pedestrian access is limited as Lower Manhattan remains an obstacle course, although the impediments certainly don’t make you feel any safer. A professor at Tufts University in Boston reported being “shocked” by the impediments and loss of public space. Although I suppose for locals, our diminished expectations have led us to accept this without significant protest. After all, there are 9/11-related issues that are much more egregious.

At Ground Zero in 2001

At Ground Zero in 2001

I returned to the exact spot where I stayed from September 11, 2001 through November 2001 following the evacuation and closure of my neighborhood. It is in Jersey City right on the Hudson River facing Lower Manhattan. From that spot, I photographed the “Towers of Light” which went up last night and will remain on reflecting in light the absence of the Twin Towers for 24 hours. I also post for you here the light memorial shown from the ground up at Ground Zero, which photograph I had taken on the first anniversary.

Mostly, though, my thoughts today focused on the future rather than the past; specifically, the approach of Hurricane Ike towards Texas. I did two live radio interviews today and that was the major topic. I am sure that there is something therapeutic for me in reaching out to other small businesses that are experiencing major disasters. Otherwise, the day might have been more difficult. But tomorrow is September 12 and we move forward.