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Is Phuket courting disaster?

Amid growing concerns in Phuket’s ability to deal with potential disasters, Thanyapura Sports & Leisure Club hosted a Crisis Management Plan seminar on May 23.


By Jody Houton

Friday 1 June 2012, 01:54PM


The event was billed as being an opportunity for Phuket’s business owners, government representatives and environmental experts to discuss ways in which they may better work together to create a contingency plan in the event of an earthquake, tsunami, flood or any other natural disasters.

As such it was attended by Phuket’s Vice Governor Somkiet Sangkaosutthirak, Vice President of NGO Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) Dr Chaiyod Bunyakit and owner of Business Continuity Management (BCM) Prakob Petcharut.

Vice Gov. Somkiet said in his opening speech, “Phuket is a special gift from Thailand; we are blessed with clean air, beautiful beaches and food, so it’s our responsibility to look after it for future generations.”

He remarked that everybody must be mindful of the need to balance the growth of Phuket’s much-needed infrastructure while maintaining the island’s beauty and natural environment. He believed that a huge contributing factor to the erosion of Phuket’s natural landscape was construction, and believed that much of it was being done illegally.

“Although Thailand has many laws [regarding property development], the implementation of them is still not there. The authorities try to find ways to not fully comply with regulations.”

The Vice Gov added to the predominantly foreign crowd, many of whom work in the hospitality industry, “Phuket has many disasters; man made and natural.”

Bringing it back on topic, he continued “We need emergency laws to manage disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis. Businesses and the provincial government need to work together to take good care of the island. I’m very happy and would like to support the organisation.”

But before the welcoming applause for the next speaker had died down, the Vice Gov had left the building. Dr Chaiyod, the chairman of TEI later remarked how he would be sending the powerpoint of his presentation to the Vice Gov.

He said, “I’m disappointed, it’s essential that the government, private sector and environmental organisations all know what the other ones are doing and want.”

After a 45-minute speech delivered by the doctor, many people who did attend were also perhaps unaware of what the TEI actually wanted, and besides the echoed recommended method of communicating between factions, how to go about getting it.

Dr Chaiyod spoke of how global warning and a growing population was putting undue stress on the world’s resources and how the current lifestyle is unsustainable. He also suggested that bearing in mind the way Thai politics is organised, a bottom-up approach would be best.

“We’re in the second year of a three year plan. I suggest that independent businesses, private sectors and organisations become more vocal and go and physically ask the province and local authorities what they want.”

He added, “If there’s nobody asking what they want, how does anybody know?”

The TEI is an NGO and receives project-funded donations from agencies like Rockefeller and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in order to carry out research.

For Kanokwan Homcha-aim, a researcher and project coordinator at TEI, she believes that to remain grounded and realistic about what can be done, either through man or nature, was incredibly important “Quite often we cannot do anything about these natural-made problems like climate change for example, we cannot reverse it, but we can contain it.”

She added that although the areas’ specific concerns were different, she had hopes of replicating the success of their most recent project in Had Yai.

Central Phuket

“As part of our ongoing project in Had Yai and Chiang Rai, we implemented a strategy to manage the floods, and installed cameras to monitor when the waters get to dangerous levels. This is a particular problem in that region and we are looking into what may be the particular areas of concern in Phuket.”

The third speaker meanwhile was resolute that Phuket should be wary of anything and everything. Prakob Petcharut, the owner of BCM started his presentation with a mini-documentary containing quite graphic images of people jumping from windows of the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Mr Prakob, who makes his living from selling tailored-packages to businesses seeking contingency plans, said, “9/11 brought about concern and knowledge in Business Continuity Management. Certain sectors in Phuket have a BCM in place, but many don’t”.

He referenced how during the November 2011 Bangkok floods, many 7/11s managed to continue stocking basic goods owing to a well-organised BCM.

Mr Prakob said that regardless of the type of business or industry, the basic premise of BCM was the same, “You need to identify what your most valuable product is and then take steps to safeguard it. Think about worse case scenarios. What if something happens? If the Phuket International Airport closes, what will you do?

“If customers lose confidence in you, then you will lose business, so it’s all about ensuring that does not happen.”

This naturally elicited a question from the audience of potential hints and tips of what to do in the event of an earthquake or tsunami, unfortunately Mr Prakob said he didn’t have such information at hand. From that point on, restoring confidence in the seminar seemed like a much more pressing dilemma.

Much of the morning was about identifying what needed to be done and why, the next step might be perhaps to discover how that can be done, besides of course employing Mr Prakob to do it himself.

For Mr Prakob however, this is the best option, “If you ask the government a question to do something, their first answer will be about budget and they don’t have enough. That’s why I don’t care about the government and why I started up my own company.”

The floor was then opened up to comments in which predominantly foreign attendees suggested that, much like Dr Chaiyod said, changes needed to happen at a grass roots level. Wages needed to be raised and more people needed to be employed to monitor and then raise tsunami alarms for example.

One of the main things learned from the Crisis Management seminar was that in order for anything related to Phuket crisis management or disaster preparedness to be achieved, it was prudent for people to work together and stop blaming others and be prepared to take at least a small share of the responsibility.

It was important for the ‘them, them, them’ and the ‘us, us, us’ attitude to become ‘we,we,we.’ How this will happen without people listening to others and having a vested interest in not actually working together to ‘improve’ things, remains to be sought.

Kelly Franklin, the president of Sustainable Smiles and also member of SEEK, the environmental organisation that put on the event said, “The end was missing what's {to happen} next and how to proceed further (I think because we ran out of time), but TEI does have plans to follow up with everyone as this was just an introduction with a workshop to come later."



 



 

 

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