Why hurricane Patricia did less damage than expected?

When meteorologists and experts were cranking the sirens over the arrival of Hurricane Patricia on the western coast of Mexico, most had in mind the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. In that case, unfortunately, over 6,300 people were killed.  UN had previously made this comparison taking into consideration any possible risks and the initial magnitude.

Fear of an historical magnitude hurricane –category 5 in the Saffir-Simpson scale- was plausible. Thankfully, hurricane Patricia did less damage than expected, but nobody was able to foresee that with all metrics that is was going to go the other way around.

Therefore, most attention should be paid to the analysis of this particular phenomenon, because it could become extremely useful for planning other similar emergency situations.

If hurricane Patricia caused less damage it was due to warning and evacuation systems, but, above all, it had to do with natural elements and geographic and random factors.

The warning and evacuation system worked reasonably well. Notwithstanding, it must be pointed out, that this might have happened because initially there was a category 5 hurricane expected that turn out to be a tropical storm.

Thankfully, hurricane Patricia landed in a non-populated area and not within the industrial and productive strategic area of Port of Manzanillo or within Puerto Vallarta touristic zone. The outcome would have been absolutely different if this would had taken place.

On the other hand, the hurricane became a tropical storm in less than ten hours, considered an historical event by the US National Hurricane Center, based in Miami, Florida. The unexpected role played in this case by the western Sierra Madre mountains as a natural barrier turned out to be determinant, as the Círculo Volcánico Transmexicano and the researcher from the University of Guadalajara, Ángel Meulenert, suggest.

Even though, we live in the XXI st century, and we rely upon a high degree of technological development, we still depend on random and nature factors when it comes to global disaster relief.

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Five tips

 Although Hurricane Patricia could be considered the hurricane that never came to life as expected, there shall be five steps taken within global disaster relief, striving to enable quicker and better response during crisis and catastrophes in a more effective, sustainable and cost-efficient way.

  1. Floods: A water evacuation support net should be ready, always according to the amount of water expected in case of use.
  1. Water, power and communications supply must be shut down: There shall be backup systems, as electric generators and water tanks, in order to guarantee supply.
  1. Landslide: A relief road scheme must be planned after analyzing all risks and coming up with contention engineering solutions. By doing so, road blocking will be avoided and, under critical circumstances, towns and cities will not get isolated.
  2. Damage proof and destruction proof buildings:  anti-earthquake and anti-hurricane measures must be implemented always taking into consideration the risks.
  1. River and coast line overflowing: Architectural contention and protection barriers must be design in order to prevent the risks of severe climatology effects. The measures must also provide added value to the areas where these schemes are implemented. They must also contribute to social and economic development within the established natural catastrophe high risk areas. On the other hand, river areas must count with specific disaster relief and support against overflowing as a consequence of severe torrential rainfall produced by hurricanes or typhoons.

If all risks are taken into consideration as well as relief schemes the action of Nature might be mitigated and by doing so securing population from natural catastrophes.

Planning, under resilience patterns, becomes essential for not leaving any aspects to random variables.  It might appear more expensive in the beginning, but it is cheaper compared to material and reconstruction costs. Any cost will always be more reasonable than the human life lost.