Author Archives: Melissa


About Melissa

Managing Director of MENA Strategies, a risk management and strategy consulting firm based in Lebanon focused on the Middle East and North Africa Regions.

What if we started preparing for storms?

POST_1-IMG0Following last week’s floods and ridiculous traffic jams caused by heavy rains, Lebanon has finally decided to become proactive about its national risk management strategy when the announcement of an upcoming storm “Alexa” was made.  Indeed, a national state of emergency has officially been declared in Lebanon and the Army, the civil defense, and other authorities issued some statements advising people to be prepared, to be careful, and to stay tuned for more information (see here and here).

Besides, the Ministry of Interior seems to have embraced Social Media in Emergency Management (SMEM) by launching the following Twitter account and Facebook page:

Another Twitter account, dedicated to the Alexa Storm, has also been very active in relaying information about the storm progress:

But how do you really prepare for a storm? What is being careful and which communication method should one rely on in a country where the internet is out for a couple of days for a flood, phone lines shut down when a crisis occurs and social media not being part of an emergency communication plan? Though the country is not prepared to handle any crisis, risk management thinking process starts in the household, and here is what you can do.

MENA Strategies has consolidated a list to help you be prepared, regardless of the nation’s inability to protect its citizens from national disasters. We highly encourage you to keep us in the loop of any safety advisory over social media using the hashtag #MSGU. The next edition will help businesses prepare for such events, so stay tuned and, as always, your comments are much appreciated.

Before the storm, i.e. NOW. 

 Food: Make sure you have enough water, and food for the next few days. Consider canned foods in the event of downed electricity lines and you cannot refrigerate or heat (if electric oven) your food.  If you are expecting the electricity to be out for a while, turn up your refrigerator to the coldest setting so that food in it will not go bad if the electricity is out for too long.

 Children: Aside from the bare necessities, children will get bored, make sure you have a plan to entertain them (drawing materials, toys, great time to put up the tree if you haven’t done so yet) it will be less stressful for you.  If you have infants, make sure you have sufficient diapers and baby formula as well.

 Medicine, first aid kit: Make sure you have a first aid kit handy, and that you have enough medicine to last you a few days. This is especially important if you are caring for an elderly person currently taking blood pressure medicine, insulin, inhaler, etc.

 Heat: If you rely on electric heat, it may be a good time to have an alternative. Other options may be gas heating (make sure you have enough gas), Diesel-based central heating (or “chauffage”, check your Diesel/Mazout tank level), Soubia and fireplaces (make sure you have enough wood). Always remember that alternative-heating methods may accumulate a toxic level of dioxides and emissions so make sure you ventilate every hour or two if using any of the ones stated above. Should it get really cold, maintain an extra few sets of warm clothes, particularly socks as these become useless if they become wet.

 Pets: If you have pets, make sure you have a plan for their sanitation, as you may not be able to walk them. Encourage your pets to play indoors, this will give them the exercise they need and will make them want to spend less time outside when you take them out in the cold.

 Flashlights and candles: make sure you have enough of these handy, along with batteries and matches.

 Back- up generators: Since most of the country relies on backup generators, it is a great time for you to check with your provider, to make sure he/she has a plan should the electricity be disconnected for a longer than usual time.

 Important documents: Store important documents such as legal papers, passports, property deeds, insurance policies, etc. in a safe and dry place (consider Ziploc bags)

 Charge up: Charge all your electronics while you have electricity, you don’t know which one you will need later. If you don’t have a back up battery charger, it is a great time to buy one. Shut off your phone when you are not using it to save battery and put it on battery economy mode, i.e. turn down brightness, turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, etc.

 Fly-away: If you have a terrace, open balcony, garden, make sure you don’t leave any furniture, BBQ, children’s toy cars, etc. out as they may get lifted by winds and break your window, damage your car, etc.

 Identify your exposures: If you have vulnerable windows, tape them. If you are living in an area prone to floods, make sure you store all important belongings in plastic containers or above floor level and buy yourself a pump to get rid of the water, should it indeed flood.

 Car: Park your car inside if you can. If not, stay away from trees and any objects that may get pushed against your car by strong winds. Make sure you have enough fuel in your car and that you have anti-freeze in your windshield wiper fluid container. Also keep some extra anti-freeze in the car. While you are at it, make sure you changed your wipers for this season and that your tires are in good shape. If you live in high altitudes, make sure you have chains for your tires AND YOU KNOW HOW TO INSTALL THEM in the event you need to step out for an emergency. Make sure you have enough water, and emergency food, medicine, electronics, heating, should you get stuck in the car somewhere as our country is unfortunately not well equipped to help you out.

 Money: Go to the bank, get some cash and keep it handy.

 Work and school: If you can work from home, ask your employer if you can take some work home the day before the storm, just incase you can’t come in. If your children can skip school prepare their teachers for the absence and ask to bring them up to speed on their classes at home; if you are a university student, discuss it with your professors and stay current on your courses from home.  Staying indoors in such extreme temperatures will help you stay healthy, the last thing you need is to catch a cold and spread it to your family at home.

 Go-bag and evacuation plan: Pack a bag in case you have to leave immediately and, although this may not be applicable to this particular storm, it will be important for you to have a plan in mind should you need to evacuate.

During the storm:

 Stay indoors. If you need to go out make sure you are adequately dressed for the cold and that you are wearing rain gear. The last thing you need is to get sick during a storm.

 Fluids: Stay hydrated and active. Hot beverages always help in cold weather and if you continue to be cold soak your feed in hot water. You will be bored, so make sure you have room to work out, read, work, etc.

 Stay informed: Watch TV, listen to the radio, follow the #MSGU hashtag on Twitter and stay tuned. Volunteers can read the best practice guides (in English and in French)

 Communication: Don’t spend too much time on the phone; think about it as an emergency tool, you are clogging up the network while people are trying to get a hold of each other (or a hospital, the red cross, the “darak”) for an emergency. This is always the case when a bomb goes off in Lebanon so make sure you apply this in any emergency.

If you feel you are ahead in your risk management plan:

 Help others: Check on your neighbors and help them get prepared. Offer them to stay with you during the storm, especially if they are elderly or can make for great company for you or your children. If you have any extra blankets, candles, heating equipment, canned food, etc. consider donating them to those in need, like refugee camps, anyone you know who may not have proper heating. The gift of warmth in cold weather, may be the most appreciated one of all.

HelpingRefugees.jpgStorm days are a great way to reconnect with family, try to look at the bright side and to stay away from nagging about it. Spreading negative energy isn’t conducive to the overall well being of the people surrounding you, neither are rants about the government’s overestimation of the risk. This storm may have changed its route this time but while some are criticizing the hype caused by the media and the overly cautious measures taken by the government, I hope you can see this as practice so we can for once be proactive about risk management instead of waiting till the damage is done to pretend we learned something about it. Admitting that we are not prepared for a nature-provoked crisis was the first step and being risk averse and taking extreme precautionary measures may be the biggest step in risk management this country has ever made. Let us hope it is a temporary one until our roads, crisis communication plans, prevention and mitigation measures improve in Lebanon so we can be better prepared for man-made catastrophes and natural disasters alike.

 Saying “there is nothing we can do about it” however is wrong: though we may not be able to control the weather, the government CAN and should control the potential damage it can cause, but it all starts in the household and improves with risk management awareness, education, and practice.

12 years later: On Arab strategy, 9/11 and the “war on terror”

POST_17-IMG0Today marks the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 New York twin towers terrorist attacks that shook the world’s views on national security, safety, Islam, and the Middle East. Today, Islam remains tainted by terroristic definitions, and the Middle East as a whole, is still a threat to National security.

Since then, the US has attacked Afghanistan, Iraq and was getting ready for Syria.

The US’ defense mechanism has become to attack those who might threaten their national security and their economy, all the while hiding behind an initiative to spread democracy and rid people in emerging markets from things like oppression, injustice, but also loved ones and dignity.

There are people dying, all over my region. They are not dying for a reason, they are not Martyrs, but they are victims of an endless chess game. Their death did not help a cause, just like the 9/11 victims, they died simply because we failed to communicate otherwise, because we discriminate, because we separate, and because we hate. (i)

Fellow Arabs, we are not so different from the United States. Take for example us Lebanese who have been fighting each other for so long that we are not sure what we are fighting for anymore. We’ve used religion, political parties, and opinions as an excuse to be separated. We hate as passionately as we love, without realizing that all war is civil because we are all brothers and sisters. We use terror to get a message across; we punch holes into our national security forgetting that it is our only shield against international interference. All the lives, money, time, opportunities forgone, discrimination and hatred are the real costs of the war on terror, regardless of where it is. Is it efficient? No, it is counter productive because wars have only made a difference once the doors of communications are open. Let’s just skip to that part; let’s communicate because only the dead have seen the end of war. (ii)

Maybe there is a reason the US has left us alone… and it isn’t because we don’t have enough oil, because the country has a relatively high percentage of Christians compared to the rest of the region or because we are feared. After all the United States’ natural resources are not significant enough to attract terrorist attempts but their global power and actions are. So it must be because the US is confident that we will always do a better job fighting amongst ourselves than they would fighting us. Basically, we are so weak as a nation that we cannot cause any threat to another, how bad of a reputation is that? We can’t even play “chess” because we don’t have foresight, only bitterness from a past that should have been re-written on a fresh white page a long time ago, and it sits there in the forefront of our minds, dictating our future.

We need to think more strategically, and less emotionally. We have to be more rational and be held accountable for what we DON’T do just like we are for the things we DO. We need to evaluate the risks before we make a move and we need to take risks only when the opportunity it reveals is worthwhile. We must become more educated in the way we make our political decisions, and most importantly we have to learn from our mistakes.  Through proper risk management we can use past history to make better decisions for the future, we can insure it does not repeat itself, and we can work on doing it all with the least possible damage to security, society, infrastructure and economy. It is great to have passion and love for your country, but when people are dying, nations are weakening, and economies are hurting, what’s love got to do with it? (iii)

In remembering the 9/11 victims, I hope the US remembers victims of their own terror on the Middle East and learn to draw a new page. I hope that the Lebanese too, can remember theirs, and maybe finally admit that those who died were victims, not martyrs and that it didn’t help THE cause, because we don’t know what that cause is and if you ask around about it, chances are we don’t all agree on the same one.

(i) Inspired by my favorite Dr. Martin Luther King quote “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”
(ii) “only the dead have seen the end of war” – Plato
(iii) “what’s love got to do with it?” – Tina Turner

Lebanon, where Instability is the newly found Stability

POST_16-IMG0For months now, countries all over the world have been instructing their citizens (diplomats and civilians) to leave Lebanon due to the political instability. This continuous state of shaky grounds and uncertainty has left us wondering if an unstable Lebanon is the newly found stability.

We’ve grown accustomed to the political turmoil and civil commotion that it doesn’t tame us anymore. The whole country may be in a constant alert mode, mitigating its exposure to risk however it knows best, i.e. Lebanese citizens have been taking precautions by avoiding any major investment decisions, travel plans…etc. but are we really preparing for the worst and hoping for the best? What really is the worst that could happen? What measures have we taken to avoid it or reduce its impact?

Maybe that’s the problem with being labeled as the Phoenix. The city of Beirut has been destroyed 7 times in history (8 if you count the 2006 war, which you really should) and has since arisen from ashes, just like the phoenix in Greek mythology, rebuilt even better than ever… or has it?

We could be in denial, maybe the scars from all the “almost wars” and the actual wars are buried deep inside. Maybe that’s where the oxymoronic Lebanese personality springs from: Indeed, Lebanese manifest heartwarming patriotism in moments of crisis and on major holidays like independence day, Army day…etc. yet remain unmotivated to make a difference in their own country otherwise.  There is no doubt that the Lebanese love their country, so why does the love stop at social media rants, angry messages directed to the government and foreign opinions? Why is it when the country needs its youth’s brains, energy and patriotism the most, we go on and waste it on sarcasm, self-pity, despair and the urge to leave. A people with so much passion in its art, music, food, hospitality, its love of life, why can’t that passion be applied in a manner that is conducive to a greater good? Soon you will realize that you cannot escape your roots my fellow Lebanese, and no matter how much you try, (believe me I have) you cannot take them with you when you leave. This is not just your country, it is that of your children and their children, and if you don’t protect it from potential harm, who will?

Every one of us is a risk manager, our overprotective and caring moms (bless them) taught us that in their loving advices for us: Put on a jacket to avoid a cold, wear sunscreen, save your money, don’t drink and drive, study, don’t smoke, don’t get a tattoo (still questioning that one) and we know the basic steps of risk management already: Identify the risk, analyze it, measure it, identify controls for it, implement them, and monitor the process. Let me paint a familiar picture of an incomplete risk management process: think about when you first begin a romantic relationship and you know there is a potential heartbreak that may be inflicted upon you somewhere along the way. You essentially negotiate with yourself, weigh the opportunities, the fears, the benefits, picture a worst-case scenario, and measure its likelihood. If you can convince yourself that it can’t be worse than your first heartbreak ever, especially if your first wasn’t your last, you know you’ll get over it again, so why prepare for it or avoid it?

The same applies to our preparedness for disaster. Though we may hate how the west portrays us when they show bombs, camels, and deserts when we really want them to see beaches, nightlife, history and beautiful women, we are nevertheless extremely comfortable with feelings of pity being expressed about our country and put ourselves in the forefront of every middle eastern conflict, like we are victims of a bigger cause. The newsflash we missed is as follows though: The Arab spring has come and gone (maybe) and Lebanon is no longer just a “victim” of external regional conflicts that only involve us because we are in the way.  We are not victims of really bad neighbors; these are the same neighbors that put us on the map, but not being part of the solution, makes us part of the problem, and the worst part is, we point fingers at each other instead of seeing the fingers pointed at us. Right now, do yourself a favor and point your index at something, now take a look at your hand, see the three fingers pointing back at you?

They say practice makes perfect, but I think the exception to that rule is you have to actually learn from previous attempts and be better prepared for their potential reoccurrence for the saying to apply. Allow me to elaborate: a few Lebanese cities have had their share of terrorist activity, unjustified human and infrastructure losses, numerous immaterialized threats, chased by a plethora of negative externalities such as absence of tourists, overall weakness in national security, brain drain, to name a few, but once the dust settles how do we fix what’s broken? Better yet, do we even try to avoid the potentially reoccurring risk exposure? No, we don’t. The truth is, as Lebanese, we have no idea how to prepare for a disaster or how to act in one, we just run to the eye of the storm instead of preparing food, water, shelter, evacuation strategy, etc. So no, “practice doesn’t make perfect”, because our bruised memory tells us, that just like a heartbreak, we’ve been through it before, and we can get over it again.

Political instability has become the new norm, and I am concerned that if the illusion that nothing feels broken because it has never been otherwise remains, then no one will bother fixing it. You know, because normal is so mainstream.

Do you agree that we need more education in disaster risk management?