22 09 2011

Last Sunday was the 23rd anniversary of the “Gilbertazo.” That’s what we call the effects caused by the landfall of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. I was 6 years old then (and now you know how old I am). I was staying at my aunts’ house and I remember them putting adhesive tape on the windows. I also remember waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the neighbour’s satellite dish swaying wildly in the wind.

The next day we saw that the Santa Catarina River, usually bone dry, had overflowed, and had taken an amusement park and many shanty houses with it. About twenty thousand people lost their homes, about a 100 people lost their lives. The hurricane prompted the city of Monterrey to change its policy regarding construction on or near the river bed.

Last Wednesday, on my Science and Technology Policy class, we discussed an article about Hurricanes, and the risk they represent. It is one of those happy occasions  when the classes I take relate to each other.

The article focused on the difficulty of making policy for an event that is essentially rare and unpredictable, like a hurricane. It also makes me think about, well, the difficulty of educating people about a risk that they consider to be unlikely to happen.

Complacency, the author mentions, is the enemy of preparedness. The “it can’t happen to me” attitude it responsible for great loses. It is the reason people still build on the coast, or on dry river beds, or don’t buy insurance.

How do you educate and prepare people for a risk they think is unlikely to happen?

Aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert. Monterrey, 1988 (Photo by Jesús Héctor Alanís Rojas)




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