I am sure many of the readers of this site will be following the unfolding story of the damage from Cyclone Pam in the small Pacific nation of Vanuatu. This has been a very large cyclone (typhoon) and has caused widespread damage.
Yesterday, immediately after the cyclone communications and power were down, and very limited information was available.
Now approximately 24 hours later Australian and New Zealand military aircraft have landed with relief supplies.
The main airport at Port Vila is now open to commercial flights, and no doubt within another day extensive news footage will be available.
Damage in the outer more isolated islands has not been reported yet but is expected to be extensive.
Both Australia and New Zealand have maritime surveillance Orion aircraft deployed to Vanuatu, so it is expected that initial aerial assessments of damage on the outer islands will be occurring today.
As is usual with major damage events like this food, shelter, clean water and sanitation, and medical support will be the essential requirements in the first few weeks.
This morning there are reports that power has been restored to parts of Port Vila.
UNELCO, Vanuatu is a private utility, and seem to be particularly well run.
At last years Pacific Water Conference held in Pago Pago, American Samoa, UNELCO won the following awards decided from the annual pacific utility benchmarking study:
- Best Technical Performing Utility 2014
- Best Human Resource Management Utility 2014
- Best Maintenance Performing Utility 2014
- Best Performing Medium Utility 2014
- Best Overall Performing Utility 2014
- Best Water Utility CEO of the Year 2014
These awards are keenly competed across the Pacific utilities, and these wins tell us that UNELCO is a well managed and well-performing utility.
Interestingly, the award for Disaster Resilience Utility 2014 was won by Solomon Island Water Authority.
Vanuatu, like many Pacific nations, has a cyclone season with cyclones of varying strength experienced every year, much like the tornado season in the USA.
Cyclone Pam is a particularly big cyclone and has caused widespread damage, but the general effects and necessary preparations for cyclones are well known.
UNELCO even has brochures on the front page of their website for property owners on how to prepare for cyclones.
The good news for the people of Vanuatu is that they have a well run and well-prepared utility, that will have the risk management, emergency contingency planning, and necessary staff training in place to deal with this natural disaster.
This type of planning is an essential part of utility infrastructure management and enables the utility to respond efficiently and logically to the results of natural disasters.
Further supporting UNELCO is the mutual aid agreements that pacific utilities have in place (both formal and informal).
Pacific Water Association members will already be coordinating logistical, and technical assistance, along with the Australian, New Zealand, British and French government agencies, and international aid organizations.
Pacific Water Association, in association with international development agencies, has over the past few years also set up technical support and mentoring twinning arrangements between pacific utilities and Australian/New Zealand utilities.
In times of natural disaster existing strong relationships such as those nurtured in twinning arrangements really assist in the mobilization of advice and support.
There will naturally be a massive amount of follow up work and restoration required for Vanuatu and the other nations affected by Cyclone Pam.
The good news for Vanuatu from a utility infrastructure management perspective is that this follow up work will be carried out by a well-run organization, with strong regional support arrangements.
Natural disasters happen from time to time. The key takeaway from an infrastructure management perspective is to ensure that you have your risk management planning, emergency contingency planning, staff training, and support arrangements in place before they happen.