This question should not need to be asked. World faces numerous natural disasters and calamities every year. We have always been distant and assumed that disasters are one of events which do not happen regularly but if you watch news, you have noticed that tsunamis, thunderstorms, wildfires and pandemic are becoming part of our life and probability of recurrence is very high. Just the fact that lives are lost due to disasters, makes it a moral imperative to act. The question to always ask is ‘If my child, sibling, parent could get killed in that disaster, would I do anything?
That is not all of course. Many survivors are maimed for life. Orphans may end up desolate without their parents. People that come out of school or college during a disaster may see the impact of that disaster in their entire career. Jobs are lost, as we see right now, and families slide down the slope to poverty. Many are directly thrown into poverty and lead miserable lives.
In the recent past, businesses have struggled with the idea of allowing their staff to work from home. Various options have been considered and tried with limited success. Most companies had work-from-home options only as an exceptional arrangement.
Some industries and some career paths certainly need to be at the office. But the majority of the companies did not allow work-from-home primarily because of a fear of productivity loss, primarily. Management and even line managers have felt uncertain that they could get the best work out of their employees.
This has been a big cost to the employees. Most employees waste a large number of unpaid hours just commuting. They are unpaid for that and there is no tax benefit. They take a certain number of risks getting concentrated in a central location. Employees family life and children struggle since school timings are different than work timings. Pregnant women and women with young children particularly have had to pay a heavy price due to the model of working at the office.
In one fell swoop the work-from-office model has been broken in the year 2020. Nature has just proved the justification for work-at-office is just a narrative, and when push comes to shove, practically all companies can accommodate work-from-home options. COVID-19 has forced most companies to stop
50 percent of infected older people died from the original SARS virus in 2003 and the general fatality rate was 14%. SARS spread fast through the air or contact and killed fast. About 8000 people got sick but they were spread across 29 countries due to air travel. It was able to spread into so many countries because of the new age of air travel and globalization. We should have known what this meant.
This second variation of the SARS virus (SARS-COV-2 or COVID-19 or Coronavirus) has sickened 70 Million people and killed 1.6 Million people. We are about 1 year into this particular pandemic with another full year to go at least, before it is brought under control. This virus has about a 2.3% fatality rate.
The COVID-19 virus not only killed a lot of people, but it also damaged the global economy to the tune of Trillions of dollars. Countless people have damaged health, lost jobs, lost businesses and gotten evicted from their houses.
Why did this happen, given that we actually had a warning with a virus from the same family. And what will happen the next time another such virus spreads across the world?
A 17,000 feet tall column of flame, rotating at the speed of 143 MPH, towered over Redding, California in 2018. With the power of an EF3 level Tornado, it was uprooting trees and sucking in material to burn. from every direction on the compass. As it grew higher, it was also spitting out burning firebrands in every direction and creating fast-expanding perimeter of fire. This in all its frightening fury, was a Firenado.
This was the Carr fire; but this was not the largest fire of 2018. There were other fires such as the Mendocino Complex fire which by itself destroyed 460,000 acres. These were a part of the record-setting fire damage year of 2018, which destroyed 1,600,000 Acres. But the record was completely shattered in 2020 in just a duration of four weeks – and that too in the non-fire season.
Native Americans managed the fires by setting periodic fires, which was actually larger in acres consumed than current years but was far less destructive. Regular fires burns up minor levels of fuel before it can accumulate too much. The Forest Service from its inception in 1905 did not follow that path. Instead they had a policy of fighting the fires as they happened. And CalFire which has a responsibility to fight the fires, had no ability to manage the fuel for the fires. But by the time they realized their error, forest-based businesses and people worried about air quality, had come to the idea that no fire is a good fire. The accumulation of surface fuels (without frequent fires to burn them off), and the settlement of wilderness areas have set the stage far greater damage from these fires
Today when disaster happens, the primary organization providing support and mitigation tends to be government departments.
Non-profit charities also play a very significant role. To a small extent private companies also play a part, particularly in
producing and routing supplies. Most of this activity is reactive after the fact.
But among private industry, one area is not known to be focused on disaster mitigation. That is venture capital. There have been many companies created by venture capital that have made the world more resilient to disasters. Companies like Airbnb and Uber have created income options for poor and working poor by monetizing their assets like cars and houses.
But we have not had venture funds with clear investment thesis focused on disaster mitigation. One exception has been Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers ( KPCB). 14 years ago, they focused on the potential disaster of pandemics and create a set of startups that are now doing really well in the COVID-10 arena. That took a lot of foresight.
There are many types of disasters from natural disasters to human economic ones. The worst damage is the unnecessary lives lost, sometimes in the millions. And there are types of damage jobs lost, health loss, housing loss, earnings loss, poverty, and many others.
When a house burns down, once you check everyone is safe, the next most important question is whether the homeowners have fire insurance. Insurance is a form of disaster mitigation. It protects families and businesses from various types of harm as the result of disasters. We cannot imagine modern society without this type of disaster mitigation.
Conventional wisdom thinks that disasters are rare and unpredictable. And that we cannot really act on them.
In the last 20 years, we have had three global emergencies- 9/11 terrorism-related wars, the 2008 financial crisis, and now the COVID-19 Pandemic. Plus, one more if you count the effects of climate change. In addition, there are innumerable national and local disasters every year. We can easily name hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, fires, nuclear accidents, etc immediately.
I watched 3 days of rains in Chennai, India take down all infrastructure including transportation, hospitals, mobile towers, ATMs and credit card machines. In a city of ten million in 3 days even money stopped working. The knock-on effects were disastrous.