The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Japanese Natural Hazard Disaster

Graham Marshall - Monday, March 14, 2011

Friday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan demonstrate once again the awesome and terrifying potential of natural hazards to cause harm.  The subsequent loss of control of the reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant simply adds further tragedy to the unfolding disaster.  With upwards of 18,000 lives lost and growing fear of radiation pollution, the longer-term costs to Japanese society are likely to be huge.

Natural hazards are due to the natural processes occurring on Planet Earth.  Tectonic activity is just one example.  As the recent earthquake and tsunami demonstrate, natural forms of energy have the potential to cause harm to us individually or as a society.  They are often extremely powerful sources of energy, often very unpredictable, and often very hard to manage. 

That does not mean, however, that planning for the release of natural hazards cannot be undertaken.  As with all safety management, the key to control is early use of the Think 6, Look 6TM hazard and risk management process. 

Start by identifying the hazards that surround us (e.g., natural hazards). 

Then assess the risk associated with the hazards. 

To assess risk, consider the incidents that can occur if the natural hazards are released.  

These may include extreme weather events, volcano, earthquake, rock-falls, mud-slides, land-slips, avalanche, light
ning strike, storm-surge, tidal wave, tsunami, sea-rips, and river overflow, meteor strike, and naturally-occurring fires

Then think about the most credible consequences should the identified incidents occur. Consider the level and type of harm to people, destruction or loss of property, scale of financial impacts, legal impacts and impacts occurring to the natural environment.

Lastly, prepare for disaster.  Since natural disasters are often unpredictable, the controls will tend to focus on the escalation side of the safety “bow-tie” (i.e., post-incident) and include mainly emergency response controls.  They will also occur at different levels of sophistication and include:

»           State-level response (e.g., implementation and enforcement of building codes);

»           City and town-level response (e.g., protective civil works such as river levee banks or sea walls);

»           Neighbourhood or community response (e.g., local volunteer fire brigades);

»           Business response (e.g., target hardening and risk assessment in preparation for emergencies); and

»           Individual and family response (e.g., removing flammable materials in areas prone to bush fire, etc.,).

For risk management purposes, it is very difficult to control the “likelihood” side of risk (the so called “acts of god” events), but we can do much to mitigate the “consequences” side of the risk equation.  Implement the best controls you can.  As usual, good planning using Think 6, Look 6TM is the key to this.

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