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What if businesses understood their tsunami risk?

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

By George Lancaster

As the Covid-19 global pandemic has shown, planning and preparedness should not wait until the crisis. This is particularly true with tsunamis, as there is little time to react between an alert and their arrival. For businesses in vulnerable coastal regions, including a tsunami component to their emergency response plan is crucial - as this enables them to mitigate risks that can be managed.

Ignoring the threat of tsunamis is not an option. A recent study found that the ocean rose 2.2 millimetres over a mere two-month period in 2019 due to an unprecedented ice melt in Greenland caused by warming oceans. The combined effects of sea level rise and tsunamis poses increased risk and severity of coastal flooding and impacts. 

Nearly seventy percent of humanity lives within 100 miles (160 kms) of a coast. Take Australia, for example, whose coastline stretches for 25,760 kms (16,000 miles). Fifty percent of its population lives within seven kilometres of the ocean. Surrounding it to the north and east are 8,000 kms of active tectonic plate boundaries capable of sending tsunamis that would reach Australia within two to four hours. Being spared in 2004 (Indonesia) and 2011 (Japan) is no assurance it will be in the future.

Preparation involves several elements that go beyond regular business emergency management, which may be geared to localised events such as a fire in the office building. This is because tsunamis can cause total destruction across a wide area, and the effect of that destruction can be long-lasting. 

As a planning exercise it is useful to first imagine this scenario: it is dark, electricity is out, communications are down, transport infrastructure is gone, community emergency personnel are non-existent, and you must get to higher ground, fast. 

Next, consider the impact of widespread destruction on your business in the aftermath. Ask questions such as – How dependent is the business on a central location for its employees? Which suppliers are key and where are they? How vulnerable is the business to supply chain interruption? Which customers are key and how do you reach them?

Research following the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami provides a useful planning guide. Each business must evaluate how their specific model will be negatively affected and how best to mitigate the risks. However, certain negative effects will be shared by all businesses, and any plan should incorporate the following:

  • Escape route. Safety is 150 meters up or a kilometre away. If the office is located in a high-rise above fifteen floors the best plan may be to go vertical. Otherwise it will require getting you and your employees at least a kilometre from the coast as soon as possible.
  • Communications. Consider backup radio handsets and wireless receivers. Having an alternative to mobile communications proved crucial to some towns faring better than others during the Japan 2011 tsunami
  • Decentralisation. Businesses must be optimised for remote workers, systems flexibility, intra-company communication and data protection.
  • Cooperation. Tsunamis affect a wide swathe of territory and will perhaps equally affect your business partners and suppliers. Involve these entities in your planning to ensure they are as ready as you are.

Incorporating an emergency response to tsunamis for your business is no longer an option. As recent events have shown, planning now can make the difference between a business surviving or failing.



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  • Publication date 24 Mar 2020

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