Monday, July 27, 2009

Natural Disaster Contingency Plan for Volcanic Eruption - Considerations

This article wants to present the practical features of a Natural Disaster Contingency Plan focused on threat posed by a volcano. A contingency plan is an anticipatory emergency plan to be followed in an expected or eventual disaster, based on Risk Security Assessment, availability of human and material resources, community preparedness, local and international response capability, etc.
It worth remind that since 1980, volcanic activity worldwide has killed more than 29000 people and displaced more than one
million others.
Here I would like to show some aspects of a Contingency Plan prepared to deal the potential eruption and the collateral effects of a volcano (I reviewed/updated such plan when conducted my RSA in the Colombian city of Pasto, located steps away from the active Volcano Galeras - see previous article).
The guidelines here exposed can be considered as baseline for a successful natural disaster contingency plan, as part of a national security plan created to mitigate risks to staff, assets, operations in a given specific field location. The company/organization national security plan should be interfaced with a broader governmental/civil defense plan.
The security officer on the field is usually tasked to liaise with central authorities and make sure that the local contingency plan reflects major evacuation strategies and procedures to be interrelated and implemented at national level as well.
The contingency plan usually takes into consideration three phases of the emergency: the alerting phase, the reacting phase and the protection phase.
The most delicate one is the first phase of the plan. It is absolutely important to pay particular attention to the preparation phase, i.e. to the mechanism that must be put in place before the eruption occurs. Since it is very difficult to predict when a natural disaster will take place or how severe it will be, the only aspect that can be controlled is preparation for a disaster and the respose methodology during and after the disaster. Here a brief check list of items which must be prepared prior any natural disaster emergency.
1. Keep emergency items ready at all times and in one place which is easy to reach and known to the whole staff, i.e.:
· Food: keep a stock which requires little cooking and no refrigeration (electric power may be interrupted);
· Emergency cooking equipment: a small portable gas camping stove is perfect, with spare gas cylinders;
· First-aid kit;
· Blankets;
· Emergency spare clothing;
· Lights, flashlights, pocket torch in working order;
· Portable radio with spare batteries, etc.
2. Take safety measures with respect to valuables (savings, passbook, securities, cash, precious metals, wills, including electronic assets such portable hard drivers, laptops, etc). Particular attention must be paid to info backups. Data backup must take place on a daily basis and hard copies of backups should be stored in a special certified anti natural disaster/fire caveau or safe room away from office location. Banks or specialized companies usually offer such service.
3. In case you are at your residence during the event, know how and where to turn off your electricity, gas, water and central heating oil.
4. Practical evacuation exercises must be organized and conducted in order to improve the staff readiness. Such evacuation plan must indicate a concentration point where staff have to go after the evacuation and establishes clear and effective communication measures. If the disaster takes place after business hours each staff’s family has to make advance arrangements to get in touch with all family members.
5. A shelter can be located in the concentration point in the vicinity of the office building and escape routes must be clearly marked.
6. The main concept behind the natural disaster contingency plan is that unless one is not qualified to give valuable emergency assistance or have been allocated some specific task in connection with the disaster, keep away from disaster areas if you are not already involved. Your presence will only hamper rescue, first-aid or relief work. This is no time for sight-seeing.
7. It is vital to follow the instruction contained in the plan and do not worry public officials with any matters that are not urgent. Your other problems will be dealt with later.
If the natural phenomenon includes an earthquake a different contingency plan apply, which includes features of the classic earthquake contingency plan and the one above. The plan must be carefully prepared by a security professional and staff have to be aware of it and trained on its content.
I will write soon about other specific natural disaster contingency plans which will consider separately the following natural events: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tropical storms (hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones) with a focus on hurricanes. I conducted RSAs in several Central American/Caribbean countries where the most important threat is posed on a regular basis by hurricanes.
The Natural Disaster Contingency Plan for Volcanic Eruption identifies as well the responsibilities of the respective stakeholders in managing volcanic risk and emergencies.
The second phase, the reactive phase, commences on the completion of the alerting phase activities. During this time all the security procedures must be implemented with special care to the evacuation course of action. The modus operandi related to the evacuation is peculiar of each single location and should follow an accurate previous RSA.
Once reached the concentration point/equipped shelter the third phase takes place. The protection phase can be considered an active/dynamic moment of the plan. At this stage the communication system is working between staff and the identified actors (described in the plan). The internal security structure at national level (if available) or contracted security services can, at this point, provide precise information about a further relocation of staff and assets in a safe area. Such transfer operation can take place via air (normally through helicopters), land or sea (if the location is on sea shores or island).
After the completion of the relocation a second plan has to be implemented: the recovery plan.
I hope this article will be able to give a general understanding of what a contingency plan is and what are the concepts behind it. The scope is once again the protection of staff and valuable assets, regardless the complicated and dangerous environment in which we are operating.
In the chart: the volcano alert levels. Courtesy

1 comment:

Lots in Costa Rica said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.