Following 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.
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.
Storm 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.