Posts Tagged ‘Floods’

Guest Blog from Serbia on the One-Year Anniversary of Cyclone Tamara

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Today is the first anniversary of the worst natural disaster ever to strike Serbia: on May 13, 2014, Cyclone Tamara struck southeastern Europe, delivering three months’ of rainfall within several days. The continuous heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The high-level political commitment to disaster recovery carried over into regional initiatives. As Serbia prepared to accept the chairmanship of of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2015, it pledged to continue the emphasis the previous chair, Switzerland, had placed on disaster risk reduction. In connection with advising on that transition, I developed a policy paper for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction on the OSCE’s policies and programs on disaster risk reduction. I also have a personal connection to the Serbia floods as well, the very talented web developer Djurica Bogosavljev who is doing graphic design work for one of Prisere’s most important projects. He has kindly contributed this blog to share the experience from Serbia:

Serbia Floods

Sremska Mitrovica, Before and After the Disaster

On May 13, 2014, Cyclone Tamara spread across a large geographical area in Central and South-Eastern Europe. The storm mass reached a density of up to 100 kilometers through the entire troposphere.  The warm air from the south and the east created extreme humidity and near 100 per cent saturation of air mass. Conditions in the Balkan Peninsula were particularly conducive to this low-pressure storm. The cyclones centered over Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina where, over the course of two days, between the 13th and 15th of May, Serbia received the highest recorded rainfall since data collection began 120 years ago.  On May 16, 2014, the cyclones began to weaken.

Town Obrenovac was hardest hit, flooding 90 per cent of the village. The next hardest hit site was the Nikola Tesla thermal power plant, the largest power plant in Serbia, that provides nearly 50 per cent electricity to the country. Fortunately, careful management kept the power plant safe and online. Kostolac, which provides 11 per cent of Serbia’s electricity, was threatened by the overflow of the River Mlave. Sand bag fortifications were broken, but the water did not break through the last line of defense.

The flood wave on the River Sava near the town of Sabac reached a height of of 6.6 meters, the highest level of the river in the city since recordkeeping began. By the 16th of May, 7,618 people were evacuated, 20 people were injured and three people had died.  In total, over 24,000 people in Serbia were evacuated as a result of several days of heavy rains. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic described the flooding as “the worst natural disaster that has ever befallen Serbia”. The damage to the country caused by the floods exceeded 1.7 billion Euros. Water damaged all public facilities. Physical damage to the private sector exceeded that of the public sector by 500 million Euros, including the destruction of  3,500 cars and 7,000 houses. The agricultural sector was impacted, as 1,000 hectares of arable land with crops that had already been sown were completely flooded.

After the disaster, a number of dignitaries visited Obrenovac to assess the damage and begin the process of relief, including local representatives of the European Union, other non-EU countries, the United States, Russia, and representatives of international businesses. The European Union was the largest direct donor to the relief effort, followed by generous contributions from Serbian athletes, principally  the foundations of Dejan Stankovic, Ana and Vlade Divac, Novak Djokovic. Immediately after winning his tournament in Rome, Novak Djokovic donated his prize winnings of more  than 500,000 Euros donated to help flood victims. He also called upon the international media to continue news coverage of the Balkan floods to ensure that the victims received attention and support.


Severe Flooding in Eastern and Central Europe

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Heavy rainfall over a period of days ruptured river bank dykes and triggered flash flooding in low lying areas of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Strong winds accompanied the heavy rain, causing power outages and disrupting transportation. At least twelve people have been killed with thousands of homes and businesses flooded. Southern Poland was hit the hardest; experiencing the worst floods in ten years after the Vistula River burst a dyke. Government officials in Poland estimate the flood damage to be in excess of 2 billion or US$2.5 billion. Following on the worst floods in 200 years in Rhode Island and the worst floods in 500 years in Tennessee, the weather patterns of extreme frequency and severity are alarming. Make certain your flood insurance is up to date. In any given year, 30% of the properties that flood are located in regions that have never before flooded or are not located in identified flood plains. In other words, you can’t necessarily assume that your property is not at risk for its location.

Geography Is Not Destiny

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
World Geography, Not Predestination

World Geography, Not Predestination

When serving as the keynote speaker at the annual entrepreneurs’ award luncheon of the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center, I spoke of the risk of Colorado’s favorable geography. Disaster-prone locales tend to have heightened awareness of risk threats, whether it is small businesses in California attuned to earthquake risks or Gulf Coast small businesses concerned about hurricanes. The happy fact that Colorado Springs is not located on a geological fault line or a coast can give rise to complacency. Consider, for example, that in any given year, 30% of the areas that flood have never before flooded and are not located in flood plains. While flood is a much more significant risk than either hurricane or earthquake, it is not this peril, but the underlying principle is that it is the everyday risk that is the more imminent threat. Today, a citizen journalist in Colorado posted on the CNN website a video of a tornado in his community. So what is the take home message? Focus on preparing for the everyday disaster, such as human errors and power outages, and this way you will gradually build resilience for the more serious disasters. This is critical because you cannot always predict on the basis of your locale the more severe disaster that will threaten you. It may be a flood or tornado that has never before struck your community.

Protecting New York City From the Sea

Sunday, May 31st, 2009
New York City Sea Barriers

New York City Sea Barriers

I had the opportunity to tour the emergency response center of New York City’ s Office of Emergency Management.  Officials there told me that one of their greatest concerns was the threat of a major hurricane striking the city. Indeed, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield testified before Congress “it is not a question of if a major hurricane will strike the New York area, but when.” A hurricane would flood Wall Street, the financial district, densely packed neighborhoods and the City’s infrastructure, which is largely underground, such as the subway. So I was very interested to learn of a conference held in advance of the new hurricane season (which starts on Monday) in which innovative solutions for New York were presented.

Some engineers are proposing the construction of a barrier to block the sea surges and protect areas vulnerable to flooding.  One idea involves the construction of a barrier between New Jersey and Queens, some five miles long, which would rise out of the water to meet storm surges.  It may sound extreme, but if New York were to experience a repeat of the hurricane that struck Long Island in 1938, the storm surge would be as high as 25 feet in parts of New York City. The result would be flooding of as many as 600,000 homes and an evacuation of three million New York residents. The economic losses would exceed $100 billion.  This makes the cost of the barriers, estimated to be $6 – $9 billion, appear to be a sensible investment.  Of course, at this time New York doesn’t have the finances for such an investment and seeking help from the federal government would not appear to be a prudent strategy. Surely every community would rightly demand the same protection.  For the time being, it make sense to prepare for flooding by moving critical infrastructure such as pumps to higher elevation areas. It also makes sense to launch a public awareness campaign. When I toured OEM’s command center, I learned that their leadership feared New York residents would enter subway stations on a storm alert – the last place you want to be when a hurricane or flood is forecast.

It is Flood Safety Awareness Week

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009
Floods Affect Virtually the Entire U.S.

Floods Affect Virtually the Entire U.S.

Did you know that floods cause more fatalities than more hurricanes or earthquakes? The Red Cross offers some helpful tips to prepare for floods. Flood safety concerns all of us as, in any given year, 30% of floods occur in areas outside of flood plains or in areas that have never before flooded. Unfortunately, this topic remains timely as the Red Cross is establishing emergency shelters at the North Dakota-Minnesota line, in the Red River Valley. This area experienced a major flood in 1997, after which a levee was built to protect Fargo, North Dakota. Flood stage is defined as a water height of 18 feet; some forecasters believe that the Red River could rise as high as 52 feet within the week, worse than the conditions in 1997, which floods destroyed vast swaths of Grand Forks, North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, on opposite banks of the river. The National Guard have been called up to fortify the area with sandbags, dikes and other provisions.

In another part of the country, Cedar Rapids, Iowa is preparing for the 2009 flood season even as it has not yet recovered from the major flood which struck that community nine months ago. More than 5,000 homes and 700 businesses in Cedar Rapids were damaged or destroyed. Even now, nine months later, some areas have overnight curfews, there are entire neighborhoods that remain empty and others were residents continue to live in FEMA trailers. City Hall continues to operate from a temporary location. It will take at least a decade to build permanent flood walls and levees and with the economic recession and budget shortfalls for both Iowa and Cedar Rapids, funding is not readily available for the work. Meanwhile, the residents experience anxiety when it rains, a not-uncommon emotional response following a major disaster. As disasters such as the floods in the midwestern states recede from the news headlines, it is easy to forget the ongoing recovery needs of affected communities. Let’s use the occasion of March, National Red Cross Month, to reach out to Cedar Rapids and other communities that continue to need support.

Do Nothing?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
Flood risks

Flood risks

I was recently interviewed by a newspaper journalist concerning the evacuations in the northwestern United States prompted by severe floods and avalanches. She asked me what small business owners should do to pack for such an evacuation. I answered “nothing”, which response surprised her. Actually, when an evacuation is called, you should not put yourself, your family or your employees in harm’s way by thinking of what to pack and where to go. This is true whether the evacuation order is caused by a flood, a civil emergency or some other type of disaster. Your data should be online, offsite and accessible from any remote location from which you may have to temporarily operate. Your evacuation plan should already be worked out. Your communications plan should include not only your employees and their families (and secondary, out-of-state contacts), but also customers, neighbors, vendors and other important partners. You should not delay an evacuation order to attempt in haste to determine what is critical to your business. Human safety is the most important factor. Always.

Thinking of Texas at This Time

Thursday, September 11th, 2008
Annual Conference in Houston

Annual Conference in Houston

As the Gulf Coast of Texas mounts an evacuation in anticipation of Hurricane Ike, I am reminded of my last visit to that area. The occasion was a series of workshops I delivered on small business disaster preparedness for the Small Business Development Centers in San Angelo, El Paso, Laredo and San Antonio. It was a coming home of sorts for me because I was first introduced to the ASBDC network when I spoke at their annual conference in Houston in 2006. The local events in Texas were fantastic and attended by the mayors of the cities, the chiefs of police and fire services, presidents of the local Red Cross chapters, commissioner of public health and other officials. One of the points that was made very clearly was that over the course of a 30-year mortgage, you have a 26% chance of a flood versus a 9% chance of a fire. In addition, in any given year, 30% of the homes and businesses that flood are in areas that have never before experienced a flood. This is an alarming figure, because many homeowners and small business owners mistakenly believe that their insurance policies cover flood damage and they don’t (you have to purchase flood insurance separately).

This is a major source of concern for state insurance commissioners. I was recently interviewed on The Family Breakfast Show of WICC-AM to discuss flood risks for small businesses. The following day, the scheduled guest for the program was the insurance commissioner of Connecticut, as in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fay, there is a need to educate the public about flood risks.

The other significant challenge that Texas faces is that for evacuees, all roads lead to San Antonio. At these workshops in 2007, emergency officials discussed the likelihood that as many as 1.5 million Texans may have to be evacuated from the Gulf Coast area in anticipation of a major hurricane. However, San Antonio has only 30,000 beds available in its entire hotel and hospitality industry. In Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best, I had discussed my work with Peg Callahan and Deidre Patillo of the San Antonio Small Business Development Centers. They are certainly in my prayers at this difficult time.

Dodging a Bullet, But Still Suffering

Thursday, September 11th, 2008
Appreciation from the Red Cross

Appreciation from the Red Cross

Having feared the worst, residents of Louisiana got a reprieve, of sorts, when Hurricane Gustav did not leave a trail of devastation comparable to that of Hurricane Katrina. This has caused problems of another kind; Gustav is still a serious disaster and residents in the affected areas are in need of assistance. But charitable giving has not kept pace with the need, in part because of distorted perceptions from catastrophizing risk. The fact that Gustav was not as powerful as Katrina offers little comfort to Louisiana residents living in emergency shelters until their power and other services are restored and they can safely return home. To meet the needs of those who have been displaced by Gustav, the Red Cross has taken on debt, in the hope that donor contributions are on the way (that report from the Washington Post).

On the occasion of my most recent visit to New Orleans, I was surprised with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Gulf Coast Recovery Director of the American Red Cross. This was an acknowledgement of the contributions that my own small business has consistently made over the past few years. I am currently working out the details of a promotion in which profits on the sale of my book will assist disaster relief efforts. I urge other small businesses to join in; helping the relief efforts is not only a worthwhile thing to do, it can be effective team and skill building for your own organization. This has been a tough year in the United States for major natural disasters; in addition, to a severe hurricane season, we have had tornadoes in the southern states, floods in the midwestern states and wildfires in California. The need is certainly there.