Since 2008 the UK government has produced, and updated every two years, a National Risk Register For Civil Emergencies – essentially a short list of disaster scenarios (man-made & natural) that the Cabinet Office believe to be genuine threats. The Cabinet Office describes it as:
The National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies (NRR) is the unclassified version of the National Risk Assessment (NRA), a classified assessment of the risks of civil emergencies facing the UK over the next five years. The NRR is a public resource for individuals and organisations wishing to be better prepared for emergencies.
Since emergency preparedness is a big part of this blog, knowing what governments view as their greatest disaster threats can go a long way in helping us decide how, and for what, we should be preparing.
There are regional differences that must be considered - the UK is not prone to major earthquakes, tornadoes, or Hurricanes – so those who live in areas that are must adjust accordingly.
The UK has divided their disaster risks into three broad categories:
- Malicious or Terrorist Attacks
- Natural Hazards
- Major Accidents
This document bases its assessment on each scenario on the likelihood of it happening over the next five years and on the consequences or impacts to the population. They use what the NRA and NRR consider to be a ‘reasonable worst case’ scenario, while `highly implausible scenarios’ are excluded.
Plausibility for terrorist attack scenarios are rated from low to high, while (broad) numerical odds are offered for the other types of disasters. In either case, the impact factor is rated from 1 (low) to 5 (maximum).
Despite the airtime and attention that terrorism gets, the following chart shows that most `terrorist-related’ scenarios cluster the overall impact in the mid-range, with probabilities running from medium-low to high. A truly catastrophic terrorist attack is only accorded a medium-low probability.
When it comes to `high impact and high probability’ events, the following chart (highlight mine) shows that Pandemic Influenza stands alone atop the list. While thermonuclear war or an asteroid impact could conceivably wreak more havoc on our planet, neither are considered to be anywhere near as likely as a severe pandemic.
From the section on Pandemic Influenza, they write:
Pandemic influenza2.3 Influenza pandemics are natural phenomena that have occurred over the centuries, and most recently in 2009 in the shape of the H1N1 influenza pandemic. There are other influenza strains in circulation globally, such as H5N1 (avian influenza) which emerged in South East Asia in 1996 and caused millions of deaths among poultry and several hundred human deaths. The consensus view among experts is that there is a high probability of another influenza pandemic occurring. It is impossible to forecast its timing or the nature of its impact.
2.4 Over the past 25 years, more than 30 new, or newly recognised, infections have been identified around the world, although the likelihood of a new disease spreading to the UK is low. A recent example of a newly emerged infectious disease is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which emerged in Asia in November 2002 and posed a global health threat.
Emerging infectious diseases
2.5 Consequences may include:
- in the case of pandemic influenza, half the UK population potentially being infected, with between 20,000 and 750,000 additional deaths potentially by its end
- around 2,000 people infected in the case of a new/emerging infectious disease, with some 100 additional deaths potentially by its end
- in the absence of early or effective interventions to deal with a pandemic, significant social and economic disruption, significant threats to the continuity of essential services, lower production levels, and shortages and distribution difficulties.
It is no coincidence that a severe pandemic has ranked at the top of almost every list of highly disruptive national security threats in recent years (see 2011 OECD Report: Future Global Shocks, UK: Civil Threat Risk Assessment, Influenza Pandemic As A National Security Threat).
Considered just as likely to occur – but carrying a lower impact – are events such as:
- Severe Space Weather (see NASA: The Solar Super Storm Of 2012)
- Weather Extremes (Cold weather & Heavy snow or Heat wave)
- Poor Air quality events
- Explosive Volcanic Eruptions (impacting, but outside of the UK)
- Storms and Gales
Considered somewhat less likely, but with potentially higher impacts for the UK, are extreme coastal flooding and widespread electrical outages (see GridEx 2013 Preparedness Drill).
Without electricity, gas pumps won’t work, credit & debit cards are useless (got cash?), and refrigerated foods may quickly begin to spoil (in your home, and in the store). For those who depend on electric heat during the winter or those who rely on medical devices – like oxygen generators – a prolonged outage could have deadly implications.
Our dependence upon our modern infrastructure, just in time deliveries, and a continuous supply of electricity makes all of us particularly vulnerable to any sudden interruption. And as this risk assessment shows, there are a lot of things that could impact those resources.
And this list is far from being all-inclusive. The proverbial Black Swan Event – the one no one really saw coming – is always a possibility.
Which is why agencies here in the United States - like the HHS, CDC, FEMA, Ready.gov and others - work each day to convince citizens of the importance of being prepared for the unexpected, and why I devote a fair amount of this blog to everyday preparedness.
Given the broad range of potential disaster scenarios it doesn’t make sense to `prepare for a pandemic’ or `prepare for an earthquake’, since neither may show up when the wheel of misfortune is spun for your community.
Instead, it makes sense to maintain a general level of preparedness against `all threats’.
As a former paramedic, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good first aid kit at home, and another one in your car. And just as importantly, learning how to properly use one. Taking a first-aid course, and CPR training, are both investments that could pay off big someday, for you, and for your loved ones.
Basic kit : NWS radio, First Aid Kit, Lanterns, Water & Food & cash
And every home should have no less than a 72-hour supply of emergency food and water, for all of its occupants (including pets!). This is a bare minimum, here in the United States many agencies and organizations recommend that households work towards having a 10-day supply of food, water, and emergency supplies on hand (see When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough).
Although I’ve covered a great many specifics for becoming better prepared (see NPM14: Infrastructure Failure Preparedness & NPM14: When You’ve Got To `Get Out Of Dodge’ In A Hurry), there is one prep I consider to be the most important of all.
Having – and being – a `disaster buddy’.
In NPM14: In an Emergency, Who Are You Going To Call?, I wrote that a `Disaster Buddy’ is simply someone you have prearranged that you can call on during a crisis, and who in turn, can call on you if they need help.
None of this is to suggest you should be sitting around worrying about the myriad of possible disaster scenarios. Worrying never solved anything. You should be preparing – sensibly – instead.
After all, preparing is easy . . . it’s worrying that is hard.