Resilience is paramount when it comes to disasters, yet the best lessons are often those hardest learnt writes our editor Lauren Gow.

The world awoke this morning to news that the iconic, historical beauty Notre Dame Cathedral is alight and burning furiously. A cold shiver ran down my spine watching footage of the 850-year-old Lady of Paris as she is reduced to ashes.

My first thought was for casualties; of which there are thankfully none. However, the footage of flames licking the sky brought back horrific memories of the 2017 Grenfell Fire inferno in which 72 souls lost their lives and a further 70 were injured.


At the time of the Grenfell fire, I was working in the press office of the Association of British Insurers where our walls were filled with televisions so we could monitor various news channels. On that fateful morning, we watched as every monitor simultaneously conveyed the full horror of the blaze. Stories of heroism and tragedy emerged but it was clear from the outset this was a fire like no other.

On that morning, I was also taken back to the events of September 11, 2001. At the moment the Twin Towers fell no one could have imagined rebuilding anything in its place. The torn and twisted metal, the pain and confusion on people’s faces, the terror which struck a chord around the world.

However, rebuild we did; bigger, taller and more resilient than ever. One World Trade Center, which stands on the original footprint of the North Tower is the tallest building in the United States, the tallest building in the West Hemisphere and the sixth tallest in the world. From the ashes, a phoenix did rise.

NotreDameDeParis pic

There are no plans to rebuild Grenfell Tower in London but residents of the former building will be consulted on what they would like to see in its place. One positive to come from the tragedy was the global response to the use of flammable cladding materials on buildings; deemed to be the leading cause for the speed and voracity of the fire.

Construction risk has forever been altered. Building codes have been changed in numerous countries and many buildings have had potentially flammable materials removed from them to try to stop an event like Grenfell recurring. Many lives are likely to be spared as a direct result of the learnings of that tragedy, which I hope brings small comfort to the family of those whose lives were lost.

At the time of going to press, the fire at Notre Dame has been brought under control but continues to smoulder. The Cathedral’s infamous spire is gone after collapsing earlier in the day and much of the Cathedral’s wooden frame, dubbed ‘The Forest,’ is thought to have been lost. Moreover, French President Emmanuel Macron said France “will rebuild Notre Dame,” a seemingly impossible task right now.

As risk managers, you face countless knockdowns in your daily roles. This is merely the nature of a position in the line of fire (no pun intended). Some knockdowns are insignificant while others are life-changing.

Many of you have experienced the horror of mass casualties or considerable destruction as a result of natural catastrophes. However, you get back up. You rebuild. You learn lessons and you keep moving forward. Resilience is paramount when it comes to disasters, yet the best lessons are often those hardest learnt.


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