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.

How to build an emergency kit


September is National Preparedness Month – last week, we posted about emergency apps you could download. This week, it’s all about emergency kits – do you have one? Do you have a good first aid kit?

In terms of emergency disaster preparation, the Red Cross are our “go to” experts. They offer great resources to help you prepare for emergencies, but here’s the trick – you need to make it a priority to take action now. The time to act isn’t during or after an emergency – that’s too late.

After a serious weather event, you may be on your own for a few days and need to have the essentials to survive. Many experts suggest keeping a “grab and go” emergency bag in case you need to evacuate suddenly. Red Cross has a checklist for what you should include in a Survival Kit .

An important part of any survival kit – and a day-to-day household necessity – is  a good first aid kit. When’s the last time you checked yours? Red Cross offers Anatomy of a First Aid Kit .

Red Cross says: Get a Kit.Make a Plan. Be informed. They offer a one-page summary emergency prep checklist of things you should do and steps you should take to be ready.

We don’t usually make purchase recommendations, but if you aren’t up for assembling your own kits, they can be purchased at the Red Cross Store. Purchase Red Cross First Aid kits – there are a variety of options from $3 to $27. You can also get Car First Aid Kits.

You can also purchase Emergency Preparedness products – including Personal Emergency Bags ($20) for “grab and go” to deluxe kits ($95). There are many other items, too, such as emergency radios – “the rechargeable FRX3 emergency radio automatically broadcasts emergency weather alerts for your area, including hurricanes, tornadoes and severe storms.  Set the solar panel in the sun or spin the hand turbine for one minute to get 10-15 minutes of radio and flashlight use.”

Whether you opt to buy or build, don’t put it off. If you can’t do it today, it would be a good family weekend project!

 

Apps that could help save your life in an emergency


If you had to evacuate your home in the next hour or two, would you know what to do? An hour or two gives you a bit of a head start – often, people caught in emergencies have less time to prepare than that. September is National Preparedness Month – during the month, we’ll offer a few suggestions for preparing for the unexpected. Today, we’ll highlight a few apps that might help in the event of an emergency.

Smartphone with cloud of icons

The FEMA App (smartphone app for mobile devices) contains disaster safety tips, an interactive emergency kit list, emergency meeting location information, and a map with open shelters and open FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). Also has Disaster Reporter feature allowing you to take and submit GPS photo reports of disasters so they can be displayed on a public map for others to view.

Red Cross has a great suite of free emergency apps. These include apps for weather related disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires , with state-by-state news, tips, and more. They also have apps for first aid and finding shelter in an emergency.

Pocket First Aid and CPR  from the American Heart Association offers quick, concise and clear first aid and CPR instructions from a user’s smartphone that can help a user save a life in the event of an emergency. This is the same app that helped save a life in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Read the incredible story of Dan Woolley, who survived 65 hours under rubble by using this application

Helpers & Helping in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing



Monday’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon have left many of us shaken – particularly being in our own backyard and affecting people we may know. But true to the cliche, even this cloud had a silver lining – evidenced by the incredible bravery of first responders, medical personnel and many private citizens who put their own lives at risk to save others. No doubt, more lives would have been lost without the courage of “the helpers.”
It’s hard for any of us to come to grips with senseless violence, but particularly hard for kids. On the web page Tragic Events in the News, Fred Rogers offers resources, tips and discussion about how to put scary, confusing disasters and world events into perspective for kids. Some of his sensible, comforting advice is good for adults, too!
Also see Resources in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a list of helpful links from our Employee Assistance Program.
Ways You Can Help
The One Fund – Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have announced the formation of The One Fund Boston, Inc. to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013.
American Red Cross – You can always donate funds or blood to the American Red Cross – but you may want to wait a few weeks. Right now, the Red Cross says it has sufficient funds and blood supply to deal with events in Boston, but the need for blood is constant. People often rush to donate to a specific tragedy but donating on a regular basis can be more helpful.
Boston Children’s Hospital continues to aid in the recovery following the explosions. You can support the hospital’s efforts with a donation to the Marathon Program, which supports the hospital’s areas of greatest need, or the Emergency and Trauma fund, which helps kids and families get the emergency treatment they need when tragedy strikes.

Massachusetts tornado response: emergency resources


The following are resources to help you respond to any tornado-related damage you may have suffered. As more resources become available we will add them. Also, check our Twitter feed: @RenInsureInfo.
Emergency response tips

  • Stay out of badly damaged buildings
  • If your home or business is badly damaged, try to shut off utilities or contact utility companies
  • Be cautious of any outdoor hazards such as debris, downed wires, tree limbs. Wear sturdy shoes or boots.
  • Take photos of any damage before cleaning up
  • Contact your insurance agent and / or your insurer.
  • Make temporary repairs to prevent further damage
  • Discard any food that may have been spoiled or contaminated
  • Check with local authorities for local alerts

Claims reporting: Direct links to Renaissance Alliance insurance partners claims reporting pages – list includes 40 of the state’s major insurers. If your insurer is not listed here, contact your independent agent or the Mass Division of insurance’s main number (617) 521-7794 or the Consumer Information Hotline (617) 521-7794.
Tips for claims reporting: What consumers should know when faced with a loss – Important, but sometimes difficult, filing a claim can be one of the most frustrating processes during a crisis or following a major disaster. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners offers tips for what your insurance company needs to help you avoid problems getting your claims paid.
Other resources
MA Governor declares a state of emergency
Follow emergency traffic & roadway updates on MA Department of Transportation Twitter feed
Mass Emergency Management Agency
CDC: After a tornado
What to do before, after & during a tornado (PDF)
Protect yourself from mold
USA.gov: Locate in-person services near you
News reports and videos
ABC: Massachusetts Tornadoes: At Least 4 Dead; Springfield, Westfield Hard Hit – includes video clips
III: Massachusetts and Tornadoes