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Disaster in Paradise? Even the Sweetest Dreams Can Become Nightmares without Adequate Information and Preparation

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Have you ever dreamed of moving your business, (in mind or reality) to a place that encompasses earth’s natural beauty? Today these dreams are closer than ever, since via the web, your office can be just about anywhere. Before you take the plunge, however, remember that volcanoes, floods and tornadoes, wild fires ad other calamities may also play in your new backyard. If you take a proactive look at how to manage any potential disaster that comes your way you could indeed find paradise, both in home and career.
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Figure 1

Figure 1 Lahaina, on the island of Maui in Hawaii, October 2007.

You already know that you’re at risk if you live in California, right? Earthquakes, wildfires, and the possibility of even a tsunami probably reside somewhere in your daily thoughts. The same can be said if you live in Australia, Hawaii, Mexico, or near Mount St. Helens in Washington state. You likely live and work in one of these places because you were enticed by the beauty that surrounds you.

No matter what the potential, as each day goes by with no calamities actually occurring, we all tend to become complacent. Your rational mind knows with a certainty that the day eventually will come when your world is turned upside down. Are you prepared? This three-part series will offer some very useful tips on how to assess the probability of a natural disaster, helpful information whether you live in Bali, Baghdad, or Brooklyn.

Assessing the Probability of a Disaster

One of the most difficult tasks that face the recovery planner is calculating the odds that a disaster will strike. As contingency planners, we try to stack the odds in our favor, in much the same way that a gambler is always on the alert for a "hot tip" from the racetrack before placing his bet. In our business, it’s all about information—that information and what you do with it are your most valuable assets in times of disaster. Armed with the right information, you can make critical decisions on where to build your home or business, what type of materials to use, and escape or evacuation plans where needed.

An insurance company scrutinizes actuarial tables before underwriting a policy. The same kinds of tools are available to the contingency planner, if you know where to look. But what if a disaster happens where it has never happened before? Some disasters, such as major earthquakes and tsunamis, happen so infrequently that not a lot of data is available. Consider the possibility of an earthquake in California or Japan. It’s a virtual certainty that one of these will happen in your lifetime. The Great Kanto earthquake in Japan in 1923 and the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 killed hundreds of thousands of people. Those earthquakes occurred early in the previous century; we’re quite overdue for another. It has been so long, in fact, that it’s guesswork at best to determine how modern infrastructure would stand up to a similar event today. New buildings are much stronger, designed with earthquakes in mind—but there are also a lot more people in major cities, which changes the whole equation for the contingency planner.

It’s important to remember that disasters, although predictable in some cases, can occur in any form, anywhere, at any time. Where can you get much-needed real-time information? The state of Washington hasn’t experienced a tsunami for awhile, but tsunamis do happen there. Washington hadn’t had a volcanic eruption for awhile, either, but look at what happened in 1980.

When planning for these kinds of events, consider sources like the following:

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