Latin America unveiled: Lessons in the face of natural disasters

Latin American unveiled: Peter Backman's Lessons in the face of natural disasters

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Peter Bäckman, CEO of TEDCAP explores the results of a recent exercise that took place in the Dominican Republic, to enhance preparedness in the face of natural disasters.

Natural disasters

Resource-rich regions often coincide with geographically diverse areas, such as coastal regions, mountainous areas or volcanic zones.

These areas possess distinct geological characteristics that make them more prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions.

Interestingly, the presence of valuable resources in these regions often results from the same geological processes that contribute to increased geological activity.

The very existence of these resources and those wanting and willing to do anything to exploit them creates a heightened level of exposure to environmental degradation caused by human activity.

These environmental impacts, in turn, elevate the likelihood of natural disasters and hamper the ability of local populations to effectively mitigate and respond to them.

For example, deforestation increases the risk of flooding and landslides, while impeding proper development and preparedness in nearby communities.

Understanding the Caribbean

In Northern Latin America (NOLA) and the Central and Caribbean region, where I have lived and worked for over two decades (as well as where TEDCAP has its operations), the correlation between resource abundance, demographic growth and vulnerability to natural disasters is particularly evident.

This area encompasses diverse countries with rich reserves of natural resources, such as oil, gas, minerals and agricultural land.

The geography of the region plays a significant role in its susceptibility to natural disasters.

Coastal areas are exposed to tropical storms and hurricanes that can cause extensive damage, while volcanic activity is prevalent in several zones.

The region experiences seismic activity due to its location along tectonic plate boundaries, making earthquakes a recurring threat.

Over the course of the last year, the Dominican Republic Center of Emergency Operations (COE), US Southern Command, US Department of Defense and TEDCAP, serving as the public-private liaison, engaged in a rigorous preparation and planning process for a regional disaster management exercise named CENTAM Guardian 2023.

CENTAM Guardian 2023

In May, the CENTAM Guardian 2023 exercises took place, which aim to enhance regional co-ordination, preparedness and response capabilities, to reduce the impact of natural disasters and safeguard the well-being of Caribbean and NOLA populations.

This year, the Dominican Republic was the host nation for the exercise, which was led by the US Southern Command.

As the risk management expert and representative for the private sector in the activity, I was working closely with the exercise committee to make sure that all the companies participating had their needs and requirements addressed and included, since they all play an essential role in the management of and recovery from a disastrous event such as a hurricane or earthquake.

By conducting joint exercises, training programs and simulations, the initiative seeks to improve co-ordination and communication among governments, emergency response agencies and other relevant stakeholders.

The exercises provided an opportunity to test existing disaster response plans, identify gaps and enhance overall preparedness and security.

CENTAM Guardian 2023 exercise

The corporate community resilience program

I have not only experienced the raw power and devastation caused by earthquakes and hurricanes, but also witnessed firsthand the enduring effects they have on the human psyche and business continuity.

From the temporary closure of vital infrastructure and transportation systems to the damage inflicted upon commercial establishments, the impact on organizations can be severe and long-lasting.

These impacts reinforce the necessity for businesses to prioritize risk management, develop robust contingency plans and invest in disaster-resistant infrastructure to ensure their resilience in the face of future challenges.

Natural disasters have taught me valuable lessons about the resilience of individuals and communities in the face of adversity.

Additionally, the constant social and political unrest that often accompanies such events has deepened my understanding of the interconnectedness between environmental and socio-political factors in shaping disaster response and recovery.

At TEDCAP, we recognized that the private sector needed a methodology that they could follow to improve their current situation, so we developed the Corporate Community Resilience Program (CCRP).

As a unique initiative, the CCRP provides a framework for private organizations to support adjoined communities, increasing the strength of the organization.

The CCRP is based on the premise that the most valuable resources of a company are its people: its employees and their families.

With the CCRP in mind, TEDCAP was tasked to develop and execute the first ever nation-wide crisis management and business continuity tabletop exercise for the private sector.

This tabletop exercise was an integrated part of the CENTAM Guardian exercise.

We used a lifelike impact scenario developed by seismology and meteorology experts in the Dominican Republic as a base when putting the tabletop exercise scenarios together.

Exercise for the private sector

The crisis management and business continuity tabletop exercise simulated a scenario when the country was first hit by a Category 1 hurricane and then, 24 hours later, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 north of the capital Santo Domingo. In other words, a perfectly plausible natural disaster storm.

Through the different steps of the tabletop exercise, participants were guided through hurricane preparedness, emergency response, crisis management and business continuity scenarios to strengthen their ability to assess the efficiency of their plans, protocols and established incident response and crisis management procedures for natural disasters, identifying possible gaps and improvements.

Throughout the simulation, the importance of having quality information for decision-making was emphasized.

In the case of impact, participants would receive information through different channels, including rumors, first-hand testimonies and communications from acquaintances while telecommunication and official channels would be impaired.

This highlighted the need to filter and verify information to avoid the spread of fake news and make informed decisions based on reliable data in the event of a natural disaster.

The exercise was a success!

At TEDCAP, we are very grateful to all the companies and teams that took part in the exercise, who put their crisis management and business continuity plans to the test.

We had a wide range of different critical national infrastructures (CNI) and industrial sectors participating, such as: energy, finance, health, telecommunications, manufacturing, food and beverage producers as well as portable drinking water, to mention a few.

CENTAM Guardian 2023 exercise

Resilience and risk management

From a risk management standpoint, there are valuable lessons to be learned from this exercise. First and foremost, fostering public-private co-operation is crucial.

Collaboration between governments, private sectors and relevant organizations is vital to address the challenges posed by natural disasters and vulnerabilities.

By working together, sharing knowledge and pooling resources, we can enhance preparedness, response capabilities and overall resilience.

Secondly, risk awareness and preparation are key.

Recognizing the potential risks, vulnerabilities associated with it and the true and long-lasting impacts it can have on highly populated regions enables proactive measures to be taken.

This includes investing in disaster preparedness, early warning systems and infrastructure resilience.

Heightened risk awareness can lead to effective mitigation strategies, ensuring the safety and well-being of communities.

Lastly, adopting a regional perspective on local challenges is essential.

Natural disasters do not recognize geopolitical boundaries and their impact can transcend national borders.

By fostering regional co-operation and co-ordination, countries in NOLA and the Caribbean region can share experiences, best practices and resources to collectively address the common challenges they face.

As we move forward, it is imperative to prioritize sustainable resource management practices, invest in disaster preparedness and strengthen regional co-operation.

By embracing these lessons and implementing effective strategies, we can strive towards a future where resource-rich regions are resilient, communities are protected and the impact of natural disasters is minimized.

About the author

Peter Bäckman is the CEO of TEDCAP, a leading risk management firm within the Latin American region. He is also an author, speaker, award-winning and highly influential security professional backed by more than 30 years of experience working in Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. In Sweden, Peter developed and implemented high-level executive protection programs between Securitas and the Swedish Police Witness Protection Program, as well as for the Swedish Armed Forces. Peter additionally served as Security Manager in Mexico for a major drilling company and as Director of Corporate Security for a major Latin American asset management firm.

You can connect with Peter on LinkedIn here.

Read the previous installment of Latin America unveiled here and make sure to keep an eye out for the next piece, coming 15 August!

This article was originally published in the July edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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