Boston remembers its Great Molasses Disaster


We recently passed the 100 year anniversary of the huge Boston Molasses Disaster, which occurred on January 5, 1919. In today’s world, it can be hard to imagine how a household product could cause a disaster that would lead to the death of 21 people, more than 150 injuries and an entire neighborhood being leveled. That was indeed the case when 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst from a 50-foot tall North End storage tank with powerful force.

Molasses was in important staple of the day, a common sweetener. In addition to household kitchen uses, molasses was a key ingredient in rum and was once used in the manufacture of munitions.

The disaster occurred just after lunchtime on an unseasonably warm January day in a bustling Boston neighborhood. Insurance Journal describes the event:

The initial wave rose at least 25 feet high – nearly as tall as an NFL goalpost – and it obliterated everything in its path, killing 21 people and injuring 150 others. Rivets popped like machine-gun fire. Elevated railway tracks buckled. Warehouses and firehouses were pushed around like game pieces on a Monopoly board. Tenements were reduced to kindling.

Outrunning the molasses was out of the question. The first of it raced through the harborside neighborhood at 35 mph. Not even Usain Bolt, who clocked just under 28 mph at his world-record fastest, could have sprinted to safety.

The storage tank was owned by Purity Distilling Company. After the disaster, they tried to blame the explosion on bombs set by anarchists. The real source of the disaster was a confluence of predictable factors, primarily a poorly-constructed, overloaded storage tank, so badly constructed that it was painted brown to mask all the leakage.

A page dedicated to the molasses disaster with links to historical accounts says:

“Envision a disaster scene with smashed buildings, overturned vehicles, drowned and crushed victims, and terrified survivors running away covered in molasses. Like the modern-day disasters with which we are unfortunately familiar, there was chaos, terror, buildings in ruins, victims to be dug out, trapped survivors to be rescued, rescue workers among the victims, and anguished families rushing to relief centers to find their relatives. It was like any horrible disaster scene, with the addition that everything was covered in smelly sticky brown molasses.”

Agency Checklists also features an article on the disaster, including several photos. They note that the disaster marked the beginning of stricter construction codes and accountability.

“According to a Time magazine article on the flood, the resulting court case in which the U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) corporation, owner of the Purity Distilling Company who operated the tanks, was forced to pay “… restitution amounting to about $15 million in today’s money” due to the structural weakness of the tanks used to hold the molasses. It was revealed during the ensuing lawsuit that the engineer who oversaw the construction of the North End tanks did not even know how to read blueprints, and that the tanks has subsequently been painted to match the color of molasses in order to hide the constant leaks in the tank.

As a result of these revelations and the tragedy which resulted from such negligence, Massachusetts instituted stricter construction codes, essentially creating the idea and requirement of “accountability in construction.”

A century ago, liability insurance was in its early days. ( IRMI: Early Liability Coverage.) Businesses rarely had adequate insurance and the courts were often a victim’s only financial remedy for damages or loss.

Today, business insurance is a social safety net that protects a business owner from financial losses and provides financial remedy for personal injury, death and property loss by third parties, as well as for a business owner’s litigation costs. In addition, insurance companies play another important role, providing an additional layer of public protection through risk and loss exposure identification during the underwriting process, as well as loss prevention expertise for business owners.

If you’re interested in more information on this unusual disaster, we’ve included a few links and a video clip of a 22-minute video documentary.

MA Emergency: Gas Explosion Resources


 

Many of our Massachusetts neighbors experienced a terrible crisis last night, complete with gas explosions, fires and mass evacuations.  We’ve compiled a few resources and links that might be of help.

Emergency Services: Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) – If you need non-emergency assistance or information, call 2-1-1. Call 9-1-1 for emergencies.

MA Red Cross: American Red Cross of Massachusetts. Also see:  Get Help Now and Find Open Shelters  If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call the Red Cross at (800) 564-1234. This hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Gas Utility: Columbia Gas MA

Lawrence MA: Lawrence MA Emergency Alert – info on evacuations & shelter

North Andover MA:North Andover MA Columbia Gas Leak Information

Andover MA: Andover MA Gas Leak Updates

Twitter is often a quick way to get emergency updates. Here are some relevant Twitter links:

If you need to file an insurance claim, contact your local independent insurance agent.
For your convenience, here’s a list of many of the top insurance companies with links to their online claim reporting resources.

Reminder: Hurricane season continues through November


hurricane seen from space

All eyes are on the eastern seaboard as Hurricane Florence bears down upon southern states. As of right now, forecasters don’t expect any direct impact on New England, but we’re all watching North Carolina and South Carolina, where widespread mandatory evacuations are in place, the largest peace time evacuation the country has seen. This is predicted to be a multiple-day prolonged flooding event with 12-foot storm surge. See the fascinating infographic on storm surges below, courtesy of CoreLogic.

If you have friends or relatives in affected areas or are just a storm tracker, here are a few resources: Tracking Hurricane Florence: The Weather Channel • Twitter • New York Times
The National Weather Service: Hurricane and Tropical Storm Watches, Warnings, Advisories and Outlooks • Hurricane Preparedness  • Red Cross: Hurricane Safety

While New England folks may dodge this bullet, remember that hurricane season lasts from June through November.

infographic on hurricane strom surge

Do you have a “bug-out bag” ready?


emergency preparedness checklist

If you’ve followed news about the California wildfires, you know that many people are forced to flee their homes unexpectedly at a moment’s notice. A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to disaster preparedness. One of the best ways to get ready for the worst is by putting together a “bug-out bag” – a collection of important documents and valuables, all in one place, ready to be scooped up and transported at a moment’s notice.

What’s In The Bag?

A quick online search will show a plethora of survival kits available for purchase, and while those are useful (and you already have a small emergency kit in your vehicle for the winter, right?), they’re not exactly what we’re looking for here. For most of us, wilderness survival isn’t our goal when putting together a bug-out bag – when the wildfire comes or the hurricane hits or the earthquake shakes, we want to have handy the documents and means to begin the long and complicated process of rebuilding our lives.

So think of your bug-out bag as a starting point. It’s going to have in it the stuff you need to get started again. And a lot of that stuff is paper records.

The Virtual Bag

One of the best ways to ensure that your valuable records aren’t lost is redundancy. And one of the best ways of storing those redundant records is electronically. Keep copies on your phone, on your tablet, on your PC, and in the cloud. Take care to encrypt and password-protect those files. Then you’ll have them at your fingertips when you need them the most. Do the same with irreplaceable family photographs and videos. Inventory your belongings by photo or video. If it can be digitized, digitize it! And then make sure it’s securely stored in more than one place.

What Records Are We Talking About?

The vital ones! Birth certificates, marriage certificates, deeds and titles, passports and visas, papers of incorporation, leases, contracts, you name it! Some of the most important documents to store in your bug-out bag (virtual or not) are insurance records. Make sure those documents have with them your policy numbers, your insurance agent’s contact information, and instructions on how to file a claim.

And While You’re There…

Since you’re already going through all that insurance paperwork, now’s a great time to review your policies and make sure you have adequate coverage. Have you built additions to the house not covered by the original policy? What’s your policy’s loss-of-use coverage? Has your property value increased? What’s the cost to replace your property? Maybe a quick chat with your insurance agent is in order! It can’t hurt to check in with her annually, anyway. Go see her. She’ll probably give you one of those little magnetic tear-off fridge calendars; those are cool. Whether you rent or own, staying up-to-date with your personal and business insurance is the best way to limit the damage a catastrophe can cause.

Peace of Mind

Now that your documents are digitized and distributed, your vital papers safely stashed, and your emergency supplies consolidated, relax! Enjoy the feeling of being prepared. Add items and remove them from your bug-out bag as you see fit and as your circumstances demand. It’s much easier to maintain a secure document cache than it is to create one. Once you’ve put a process in place, you’ll find it easy to maintain. And now that you’ve got all your unique documents duplicated and secured, go to FEMA for a comprehensive checklist of other items to keep close in case of emergency.

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Get free emergency apps for National Preparedness Month


September is National Preparedness Month – here’s one simple thing you can do: Download some free apps for your phone so that if you find yourself in an emergency, you are ready. Pass them along to your family members too, so you can all be informed. Here are a few suggestions.

The free FEMA app

FEMA-appThe free FEMA app is a must. One great new feature is that you can get weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations across the nation. That allows you to follow severe weather alerts for friends and family located anywhere in the country – even if your phone is not located in the area.  The app is available in English but it will default to Spanish if those who have set that as the default language. It can be downloaded from the App Store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android devices.

The new weather alert feature adds to the app’s existing features: a customizable checklist of emergency supplies, maps of open shelters and Disaster Recovery Centers, and tips on how to survive natural and man-made disasters.

Some other key features of the app include:

  • Safety Tips: Tips on how to stay safe before, during, and after over 20 types of hazards, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes
  • Disaster Reporter: Users can upload and share photos of damage and recovery efforts
  • Maps of Disaster Resources: Users can locate and receive driving directions to open shelters and disaster recovery centers
  • Apply for Assistance: The app provides easy access to apply for federal disaster assistance

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Red Cross has an excellent suite of free emergency apps:

first-aid

 

First Aid – Get instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies.

 

 

pets

Pet First Aid – Be prepared to help your furry friends with veterinary advice for everyday emergencies.

 

 

 

blood

Blood – Schedule blood donation appointments, track total donations and earn rewards as you help us meet the constant need for blood.

 

They also have emergency apps for tornado, hurricane, wildfire, flood, earthquake and general emergencies, along with a few apps for kids.