Bylund

There are very few researchers who document the positive effects of disasters. But a very few do note that a disaster also injects a lot of new money into a region. Tough way to get a little economic activity going, but the imperative is to repair.
Per L. Bylund is one of the rare birds who explores this in his book The Seen, the Unseen, and the Unrealized. The subtitle is How Regulations Affect Our Everyday Lives. I think the book is about much more than regulation, but subtitles are sometimes the product of the publisher, not the author.
The book is a readable account of the economic decisions entrepreneurs make when deciding to go into a business, sell their product, or consume a product. We “produce in order to consume.” If I eat an apple, I am forgoing the eating of a pear and also forgo trading that apple for something else. That’s opportunity cost. Bylund sustains this “Dick and Jane” analogy for 173 pages without getting pedantic. He shows how nothing is free. We see the apple, we don’t see the hypothetical pear, and we can’t see what would have happened if we’d done something else all together—the unrealized. This is his case against government subsidy, because the government took the money out of the economic system to put it somewhere and that creates a whole bunch of unintended consequences.
But back to disasters, which are a dramatic case of scarcity and supply and demand theory. If your city is wiped out, you need food, clothing, and shelter far more than shopping for a winter vacation. The clothing is anything you can get, rather than the latest Brooks Brothers’ jacket. A disaster creates a “different consumption pattern.” A disaster is different than “other radical change” because it may not be anticipated and it affects “most or all goods across the board.”
Who cares about opportunity cost, comparative shopping or anything else in a disaster? You need what you need. Even if you (collectively) have no money, you obtain necessities with charity, volunteerism, debt, or any way you can.
Bylund is right, as a professor of entrepreneurship and free enterprise might be. Since he’s at Oklahoma State, he must also have seen a few severe weather events.
But my interest is in prevention, not just analysis. I’d like to build on the author’s sound analysis, to get to a solution.
If a disaster wipes out a lot of inventory, that scarce or non-existent inventory has a higher value with more dollars chasing fewer goods. If the inventory is the necessities of life, the chase takes on an urgency unparalleled in normal times.
What shall be done? It seems axiomatic to me that we maintain inventory levels, remove scarcity, and slow down the chase. Walmart did this. Bylund documents that it closed “2 of its distribution centers and 126 of its stores” after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Half had no power, some flooded and 89 had damage. Within ten days “121 of those stores were open again” after Herculean work by the retail chain. I bet their prices didn’t change much, if at all.
Does Walmart have some secret way of reacting to a disaster? Can municipal employees not learn this or ask? Cities can require businesses, buildings, and sports facilities to maintain inventories of food, medical supplies, and other necessities, including even cheap, disposable paper jump suits. There can be cheap foam to sleep on, and co-management agreements with other cities to get supplies and responders on site quickly.
It seems to me that this would reduce the scarcity, lower prices, decrease the time getting back to normal.
How about trying to get this going in your city?

Stirred, not Shaken

 

Every now and then the topic of earthquakes comes up in Vancouver.  The most recent event was the 4.8 quake on 29 December, 2015.  I have worked on the topic of earthquakes for federal authorities for some years and continue to follow the issue.

Vancouver’s emergency planning documents put the risk of an earthquake in perspective.  They note that 60% of Vancouver’s building stock was built before seismic building codes.   There’s been no damaging earthquake in modern times and so all these buildings are vulnerable. 

Interestingly, my father was partly responsible for construction of one of the first earthquake resistant buildings in Vancouver — 200 Granville Square.  I remember first hearing about earthquakes when I lived in Burnaby in the late 1960s.  I was a young teenager and my father was General Manager of “Project 200”, an early attempt to revamp the waterfront.  Nobody played nicely, not even consortium members Woodwords, Canadian Pacific, Grosvenor Lang, or Sears.  City planners didn’t react quickly or lead the discussion, and neither the federal nor provincial government seemed interested.  Project 200 is another story—a missed opportunity.  But the earthquake resistant building is highly relevant today.

 

There was a lot made about Granville Square.  It was among the first density transfers of its kind in North America with my father having to help obtain a mortgage for the air above the CP railway tracks.  Usually mortgages are for land and buildings, but this building was built on stilts above the CP railway tracks. 

While this deal was being done and the building designed, my father would regale us at the dinner table about his day at work.  One day it was the promotional copy that told of the “giant pedestrian mall” that would abut Granville Square.  “And where will you find the giant pedestrians?” I asked.  Another night my father toyed with some promotional copy that would tell the story of Granville Square being the only building left standing after a major earthquake.  He thought it would be fun to tell potential tenants that they’d be able to work in peace, quiet, and safety, if only they could climb over the rubble of all the other buildings in the city.

 

In those days, earthquake-proofing a building meant constructing sockets, lined with neoprene on which concrete pillars stood, which in turn held up the building.  My father said he had no idea what neoprene ended up like after he’d put a building weighing many hundreds of tonnes on top of it.  He certainly had no idea how to perform maintenance on the assembly after construction.

 

Now, Vancouver’s plan goes well beyond building materials. Memoranda of Understanding with other Canadian cities are now part of the plan in order to ensure rapid deployment of resources after a disaster.  Similarly, the Vancouverites are recommended to reduce dependency on electricity and natural gas grids and develop back-up power sources. Even if buildings are still standing after an earthquake, supply lines and energy infrastructure might be severely damaged or destroyed.

 

Even the best-designed earthquake-proof building might need to be evacuated in case of fire or other emergency. This is why Vancouver’s plan requires buildings’ structural drawings and fire plans to be copied and stored centrally in order to speed-up assessment of complex and high occupancy dwellings.

There’s more to be done in Vancouver and neighbouring cities.  Some have designated disaster routes (DDRs) and others don’t.  Some link to useful provincial government preparedness documents, and others don’t. We’ve never sure how many individual citizens are well prepared and would rather not find out after an earthquake.   

Today in History: July 16th

1992: Statistics Canada says inflation dropped to an annual rate of 1.1% in June, which is the lowest in 30 years, since John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister in 1962.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’

1990: More than 1,000 people are killed when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake strikes Luzon Island in the Philippines. Heroic rescue efforts saved many, but some victims who did not die as buildings collapsed were found dead later from dehydration because they were not pulled out in time.

For more on crisis management: Buy ‘An Ounce of Prevention’

1969: Apollo 11, the spaceflight which first landed humans on the Moon, takes off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, crewed by commander Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

See also Canada in Space

Today in History: July 12th

1995:  A heat advisory is issued in Chicago, warning of a record-breaking heat wave. By the time the heat breaks a week later, nearly 1,000 people are killed. Record high use of air conditioning caused some power failures. People opened so many hydrants to cool themselves off that water pressure was lost. The heat warped train rails, causing delays for commuters.

For more on crisis management: Buy ‘An Ounce of Prevention’

1990: Just two days after Mikhail Gorbachev is re-elected head of the Soviet Communist Party, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Republic of Russia, announces his resignation from the Party. Yeltsin’s action was a serious blow to Gorbachev’s efforts to keep the struggling Soviet Union together.

1960: Louis Robichaud is sworn in as Premier of New Brunswick, replacing Hugh John Flemming.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’

Today in History: July 10th

1971: Death of Samuel Bronfman, prominent Canadian businessman.

Tough Love at the Table – Pipe Cleaner

1958: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and President Dwight Eisenhower sign an agreement to have Canada and the United States set up a Joint Committee to guide North American defences in the event of enemy attack.

For more on politics: Buy ‘Political Conventions’.

1887: A dam breaks in Switzerland, killing 70 people in their homes. The water pressure on the dam slowly eroded the concrete. Rescue boats launched to assist people caught up in the sudden flood were ineffective, as some of those on the boats drowned when they capsized in the roiling waters. For more on Crisis Management: Buy ‘An Ounce of Prevention’.

Today in History: July 9th

2010: Prime Minister Stephen Harper appoints legal scholar David Johnston the next governor general.

1991: In St. Lazare, Manitoba, 400 residents flee their homes when a train carrying highly corrosive acetic anhydride derails. The emergency evacuation ends after six days. For more on Crisis Management:Click Here

1960: President Dwight Eisenhower and and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev trade verbal threats over the future of Cuba. The relationship between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly after this exchange. The Castro regime accelerated its program of expropriating American-owned property. In response, the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Today in History: July 8th

2000: The Canadian Alliance choses former Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day as leader, replacing founder Preston Manning.

1991: A study by the C.D. Howe Institute points out dangers of a post-separation economic alliance between Quebec and Canada.

1991: A Gallup Poll reports that 69% of Canadians want Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to resign, including 80% in Ontario, but only 54% in Quebec.

Today in History: July 7th

1996: Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dr. Bob Thirsk lands with his Shuttle mission crew mates at the Kennedy Space Center, after Columbia completed 272 revolutions of the earth, and a record 16-day, 21-hour, 48-minute and 30-second flight.

1975: Ed Broadbent is chosen leader of New Democratic Party on fourth ballot in Winnipeg, replacing David Lewis. Finishing in second place was Rosemary Brown.

1887: Blyth built a cloth-sailed wind turbine (or “windmill”) in the garden of his holiday cottage in Marykirk and used the electricity it produced to charge accumulators; the stored electricity was used to power the lights in his cottage, which thus became the first house in the world to be powered by wind-generated electricity.

Today in History: July 6th

1998: Two Canadians are among the 167 crew members killed as a gas leak leads to an explosion and fire on the Occidental Petroleum drill rig in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. For more on Crisis Management: Click Here

1946: On this day in 1946, George Walker Bush, is born in New Haven, Connecticut. When he was two years old, Bush’s parents moved to Texas. George W. Bush was elected president in 1999, and served until 2008. Learn more: Click Here

1944: In Hartford, Connecticut, a fire breaks out under the big top of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, killing 167 people and injuring 682. An investigation revealed that the tent had been treated with flammable paraffin thinned with gasoline to make it waterproof. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus eventually agreed to pay $5 million in compensation. For more on Crisis Management: Click Here

Today in History: July 5th

1998: Japan launches a probe to Mars, joining the U.S. and Russia as a space exploring nation.

1971: President Richard Nixon formally certifies the 26th Amendment, which lowers the voting age in the U.S. from 21 to 18 years. To learn more: Click Here

1970: An Air Canada DC-8 going from Montreal to Los Angeles makes a heavy landing at Malton Airport in Toronto, bounces and loses one engine. As the pilot tries to take off and land again, another engine falls off and the airplane crashes, killing all 109 people on board.