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Tonga reminds us to be prepared for disaster

Shock wave: damage in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, after a volcanic eruption and tsunami. (Photograph by Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting via AP)

The horrendous, ten-megaton underwater volcanic explosion last week devastated Tonga, a small archipelago of 150 islands, 36 of which are inhabited, located in the Pacific, and having a population size not much larger than Bermuda.

The tsunami aftershock generated a 49-foot wall of water encompassing everything in its path, from Tonga, spreading relentlessly across the Pacific Ocean as far as the Americas west coast and Alaska.

Mother Nature wreaks havoc, indiscriminately and mercilessly, emphasising the fragility of human existence.

The Tongan people are facing an enormous long-lasting challenge compounded by worry of Covid contamination from outsiders, while the world has responded with aid, and help for a full and speedy reconstruction of the country as well as stabilisation of the health and future security of its people.

We Bermuda Islanders send our best wishes, too; we know, personally, only too well of the survival challenges on a remote island paradise.

So, how would you react if you were told to evacuate immediately – in protection of one’s family and own life from any disaster: tsunami, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or horrendous fire.

Would you have the pre-planned emergency resources available in anticipation of a disaster, or even, have time to collect valuable documents, photos, other precious memories?

The answer is probably not.

How could anyone possibly anticipate the depth of the Tonga calamity?

Further, because it happened over there, we tend to become complacent with the casual thinking, “that it could never happen to us, or here”.

Our Bermuda had one experience with a reported tsunami that turned out to be not so, perhaps the result of possibly panicked observations interpreting the usual surge rollers hitting Bermuda reefs off Somerset/Mangrove Bay as threatening to life and limb.

Residents were seen rushing to higher ground, with and without life jackets on, while the remainder up in the West End (“God’s country”) resignedly evacuated into an already crowed one-lane-out road. Strangers ended up in strangers’ homes waiting for the all-clear. Nothing to do then but celebrate while imbibing helpful libations, where in a short while strangers became very good friends.

After it was over, it became a laughable, dismissible local event.

Where is my stuff?

But, what if it was real?

It’s impossible to completely protect yourself and your family from every large, or even small calamity, but you can prepare for survival mode in the aftermath.

Besides the basic necessities of life, food, water, air and shelter, the most import components of disaster planning are these:

• Preservation and proof of your identity

• Accessible cash funding

• Adequate insurance


Why should we worry about identity protection?

No identity: you don’t exist. You cannot claim rights to ownership, even your own birth, without proof of person.

We are all too young to even begin to understand the horror of Wthe Second World War. When, in Its aftermath, peace was declared, Europe and the world then had the monumental task to identify and repatriate more than 12 million displaced people, thousands from concentration camps among them.

Individuals and families in severe privation, suffering from hunger, shock, grief, extreme weather conditions, having no papers, no money, no home, no town, and for more than 10 per cent of them, no country to return to. Never should it happen again.

So, do you know where your personal records are right now?

Do you know, or have copies of the following:

• ID and passwords for everything below and social media, important websites in all areas of communication represented

• Copies of keys, house, cars, bikes, office, storage safes – spread them among friends, neighbours, relatives, even in other countries

• Credit / debit card numbers, verification digits, provider names, phone numbers. Please don’t say that’s all on the back of the card. What if the cards are lost?

• Bank / investment, custodian accounts, name, address, contact information

• Insurance policy account numbers, terms and conditions, issuer, address, contact information

• Payroll and benefits records, employer, address, contact information

• Passports or other proof of citizenship, residence, copies of all pages and authorisation stamps, issuer, country, address, contact information

• Birth / marriage certificates, issuer registry, date, place, parents, contact information

• Medical history, Immunisation records and vital medications prescriptions, doctors, pharmacies, addresses, contact information

• Pension records, annuity providers, name address, contact information

• Mortgage account number and papers, lending institution, address, contact information

• Property deeds, where registry of deed recorded, law firm, address, contact information

• Vehicle records, VN number, dealer, address, phone

• Wills, trusts estate planning, guardianship, law firm

• Any other documents related to your personal financial security.

Accessible cash funding

A debit/credit card or other is not much use if internet and utilities are out. Keep an adequate cash supply – for a few days anyway – yes, it is an invitation for theft, but try buying emergency supplies without cash.


Adequate paid-up fully insurance that will provide some relief, although not immediate since claims have to be filed, and comfort in stressful times.

Diversify and spread remote storage – in five methods or places: clustering all storage in one local place, one firm, one financial institution, one relative or friend is a recipe in aftermath disaster futility.

Options include:

• Digital cloud storage – digitise and encrypt everything possible

• Laptop, smart phone, smart pad, etc.

• Flash drives

• Paper – laminated, if possible, for water, solvents, degradation protection secured in waterproof, fireproof safe

• Professionals, trusted friends, relatives in other jurisdictions.

Your first thought is that all of these methods have risk, too.

You are right but consider the worst-case scenario and make your back-up plan accordingly.

Keep in mind that criminals have no empathy for the human condition. Disasters are the perfect time for them to prey upon vulnerable people. Organising your documents, spreading out the risk of loss, and having various back-ups in place will mitigate the chance of having your identity stolen during times of great duress.

If you have not done so, please get your affairs in order, now.

Readers this is only a sampling of resources, action planning, and assuring safety of your family’s identity.

Carefully review the organisation of critical documents for emergency evacuation article linked here. It is a valuable resource: https://tinyurl.com/3hzcasbr

Martha Harris Myron is a former qualified international financial planner, the author of The Bermuda Islander Financial Planning Primers, international financial consultant to the Olderhood Group Bermuda Ltd, and financial columnist to The Royal Gazette. Founder: Financial Literacy-Bermuda™ Initiative coming soon. Anyone interested in sharing financial experiences, and related contact martha@finlit-bermuda.comA

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Published January 22, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated January 24, 2022 at 8:03 am)

Tonga reminds us to be prepared for disaster

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