Thursday, March 29, 2018

Disaster Planning For Major Events


Whether we like to think about it or not, we live in increasingly perilous times.  And while there have always been threats from natural disasters, pandemics, and wars, our growing dependence on technology has added another layer of risk - one that if seriously compromised, could easily overshadow the rest. 
Once only available to a handful of nations, technology is also making it increasingly easier - and cheaper - for non-state bad actors to modify or create biological, chemical, cyber, and even radiological weapons. 
Add in changing, and often destructive, weather patterns,  a growing population of over 7 billion people, and an increasingly brittle environment .  .  . and you have a recipe for any number of disasters.

Most are local; floods, hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis . . .  and they have the distinct advantage that help can come from the outside.

A very few will impact an entire nation or large region, such as the economic collapse in Venezuela, the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014, or the war in Yemen.  
Here, for a variety of political and logistic reasons, outside help may sometimes be either slow in coming or practically non-existent.
But at the very top of the list are the hemispheric or even global disasters, and here many nations will have to fend for themselves.

This list includes severe pandemics, a major war (with or without nuclear weapons), and the dreaded long-term `grid down' scenario which can be caused by cyber attack, an earth directed CME (solar flare), or an EMP weapon. 
While least common, these are the ones that induce nightmares in emergency planners.  Partially because of their enormous impact and scope, and partially because they appear to be more likely to occur today than they were a decade or two ago.
And while these may seem far-fetched or fanciful scenarios, these are threats that FEMA, the CDC, the U.S. military, and governments around the world take seriously and actively prepare for.

Few people realize we barely escaped a grid down disaster six years ago (see NASA: The Solar Super Storm Of 2012). Last September, another major X-flare erupted just after it had passed around the limb of the sun, missing earth by only a few days (see USGS: Preparing The Nation For Severe Space Weather).

In 2014 a study was published suggesting the odds of earth being struck by one of these solar super storms is actually a lot higher than we’ve previously thought.  From a NASA article:
In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled "On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events."  In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years.  By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

The answer: 12%.
The grid can also be taken down by other, more nefarious means, a topic explored by well known journalist Ted Koppel in his 2015 book called Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.  
There are hours of interviews with Ted Koppel about his book on YouTube, including with PBS, Charlie Rose, and the following hour long discussion with the National Press Foundation. 
This is a topic we've looked at before (see The Lloyd’s Business Blackout Scenario) - and despite congressional committees and national GridEx preparedness drills - a new Congressional Research Service report
warns that the US power grid remains vulnerable to attack. 
Last August, in DHS: NIAC Cyber Threat Report - August 2017, we looked at a 45 page report addressing urgent cyber threats to our critical infrastructure that called for `bold, decisive actions'.
Equally worrisome, every four years the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) releases a report card on America’s infrastructure, and their most recent report (2017) warns that our cumulative GPA for infrastructure sits at only a D+, and two of our most vulnerable infrastructures are drinking water and the electrical grid (see When Our Modern Infrastructure Fails).

Without electrical power, water, gasoline, and sewage lift stations don't pump, elevators, air conditioners, lights and computers don’t run, ATM machines and banks close, grocery stores can’t take debit or credit cards, food spoils, and everything from cooking, to flushing toilets, becomes a major challenge.  
Like seeing a another pandemic, a major interruption in the power grid for some major urban area is probably more of a matter of when, not if.
The U.S. isn't alone in these concerns.  Every couple of years the UK reassesses their threat landscape, and releases an updated CIVIL RISKS REGISTER.  
We looked at their previous plan a little over 2 years ago in UK: 2015 Civil Risks Register, where they placed a severe Pandemic and a catastrophic terrorist attack at the very top of their worry list. 
Last fall they published an new update, putting a pandemic, followed by major `grid down' event at the top of their list of greatest concerns (see below).

Yesterday the UK released an updated National Security Capability Review (NSCR) which (among other things) emphasized the greatest  threats facing the UK over the next 5 years. 
Diseases and natural hazards affecting the UK.
One or more major hazards can be expected to materialise in the UK in every five year period. The most serious are pandemic influenza, national blackout and severe flooding. We published the latest edition of the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies in September 2017. It provides an assessment of the likelihood and potential impact of a range of different civil emergency risks that may directly affect the UK over the next five years.
While there are admittedly limits to what individuals can do to prepare for these sorts of major disaster scenarios, the reality is some preparedness is a heck of a lot better than none.
Particularly since it could take days or even weeks (think: Puerto Rico) before substantial help arrives.
Living in Florida, I prepare with hurricanes in mind, although I strive for `all threats' preparedness wherever I can.  If you live in earthquake, flood, wildfire, or tornado country, those should be covered specifically in your plan

But some scenarios, like power outages - can occur with almost any disaster. And you and your loved ones will need food, water, first aid kit, a plan, and other essential supplies.
As many residents of Florida learned the hard way last September - you need to be prepared before a threat appears imminent - as there wasn't a flashlight, candle, or battery left on the shelves a full four days before the arrival of hurricane Irma.
So, if the power were to unexpectedly go out in your city, state, or country for the next couple of weeks, do you already have:
  • A battery operated NWS Emergency Radio to find out what was going on, and to get vital instructions from emergency officials
  • A decent first-aid kit, so that you can treat injuries
  • Enough non-perishable food and water on hand to feed and hydrate your family (including pets) for the duration
  • A way to provide light when the grid is down.
  • A way to cook safely without electricity
  • A way to purify or filter water
  • A way to stay cool (fans) or warm when the power is out.
  • A small supply of cash to use in case credit/debit machines are not working 
  • An emergency plan, including meeting places, emergency out-of-state contact numbers, a disaster buddy,  and in case you must evacuate, a bug-out bag
  • Spare supply of essential prescription medicines that you or your family may need
  • A way to entertain yourself, or your kids, during a prolonged blackout
If your answer is `no’, you have some work to do.  A good place to get started is by visiting
Preparedness may seem like a lot of work, it really isn’t.
While it might be nice to have an underground bunker or a mountain retreat with 2 years worth of dehydrated food, a well, and a garden -  what you really need to focus on are the basics to carry on without outside help for a couple of weeks, and a workable family, business, or neighborhood emergency/ disaster plan.

For more information on how to prepare, I would invite you  to visit:


And for some of my other preparedness blogs, you may wish to revisit:
Preparedness: Some Holiday Gift Items Worth Considering
When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough
The Challenge Of Promoting Pandemic Preparedness

World Bank: World Ill-Prepared For A Pandemic

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