News Release

Cuba’s Hurricane Preparedness: A Model for Florida and the Gulf Coast?

NOAA handout satellite image shows Tropical Storm Isaac (R) on August 23, 2012

GAIL REED, [in Havana] medic at infomed.sld.cu, also via Camila Curtis-Contreras, ccurtiscontreras at mediccglobal.org
Reed is executive editor of MEDICC [Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba] Review.

She said today: “In the many years I’ve worked here in Cuba, I’ve seen the disaster prevention strategy up close — and been in at least five hurricanes myself. Cuba does a few things we don’t often see in other countries that help save lives: they close schools to keep families together; use ‘community evacuation’ in especially isolated areas — where specific buildings or homes have been reinforced just for that purpose — rather than having people and their household goods traveling miles to shelters; and they turn the lights out and shut down the cooking gas mains when winds reach a certain speed. This last measure alone has certainly saved hundreds of lives, since many deaths result from people wading in flood waters zapped by downed electric wires, or from gas explosions. We also get radio and television messages a full 72 hours before a storm is expected to hit — and TV meteorologist Jose Rubiera is something of a folk hero in Cuba for his informative ‘stormtracking’ broadcasts day and night. Finally, the Cuban Civil Defense, a small organization at the top, involves virtually everybody at the municipal level; together with public health and Red Cross participation, local government and institutions are well prepared with risk assessments and disaster planning.

“The success of Cuba’s disaster preparation and mitigation strategies shows up in the results: just 35 deaths were caused by the 16 hurricanes and tropical storms that have torn through the island since 2001 — and 17 of those from Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which hit a province usually spared from such weather. Which brings me to another reason why the Cubans are successful: they learn from their mistakes. After Dennis, they studied why people had low risk perception, taking chances that put their lives in danger. On other occasions, they have scrapped old ways of doing things to give people and property better protection.

“Cuba’s experience is interesting because in an economically deprived context, they set the goal of a PUBLIC system that protects 100 percent of their population. That means prioritizing vulnerable people — from those who live along the coastlines, to the elderly, disabled, families in precarious housing, and pregnant women and children.”

See MEDICC’s “Strategies for Disaster Management” issue.

SAUL LANDAU, slandau at igc.org, saullandau.com
Professor emeritus at California State University, Pomona, Landau is a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and has won numerous awards for the 40 films he has produced, several of which are about Cuba.

He said today: “The Cubans made a sensible decision to save lives during hurricanes and erected an infrastructure to do the job — which is logical for Florida and the Texas gulf ports as well. Before hurricanes strike, Cubans evacuate likely victims and insure their safety. We do not do this, nor have we begun to even discuss it. Yet, each year, the big storms ravage areas of this country. Cuba has special medical and paramedical units trained, and they make plans for all their regions. We do not. They offered to send people after Katrina, but Bush refused the offer.”

Note to producers: Jackson Browne’s song “Going Down to Cuba” may make for a good lead-in, especially the lines “They might not know all the freedoms you and I know / They do know what to do in a hurricane.” (at 2:25)