Monday, 4 June 2018

Volcanic Eruption, Volcán de Fuego, Guatemala

Disaster Event: Volcano Eruption
Volcán de Fuego, Guatemala
Location: 14° 28′ 29″ N, 90° 52′ 51″ W

Photo Credit: CONRED, Guatemala

Volcán de Fuego Volcanic Eruption Source Overview: Smithsonian Institution, Global Volcanism Program

Guatemala's Volcán de Fuego was continuously active throughout 2017, and has been erupting vigorously since 2002; historical observations of eruptions date back to 1531. These eruptions have resulted in major ashfalls, pyroclastic flows, lava flows, and damaging lahars. Reports of activity are provided by the Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrologia (INSIVUMEH), and aviation alerts of ash plumes are issued by the Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC). Satellite data from NASA, NOAA, and other sources provide valuable information about heat flow and gas emissions.

Activity remained high at Fuego throughout July-December 2017. Background levels of activity included frequent explosions (4-6 per hour) with incandescent material rising 150 m above the summit and sending blocks 200 m down the flanks. Block avalanches commonly traveled down the major ravines for hundreds of meters. Ash plumes regularly rose 500-1,000 m above the summit (4.3-4.8 km altitude); ashfall affected communities SW of the summit within 15 km every week. During the multiple short-lived (48-hour or less) eruptive episodes, the hourly explosion rates increased significantly (6-12 per hour), and incandescent material often rose 300 m above the summit; one or more lava flows would also travel more than a kilometer down major ravines. Higher ash plumes (often rising to 5-6 km altitude) during the eruptive episodes sent ash plumes drifting hundreds of kilometers in various directions causing ashfall in cities tens of kilometers away in various directions. Pyroclastic flows often accompanied the eruptive episodes. Seven episodes were reported by INSIVUMEH during July-December 2017. 

Volcano Summit: Active

Lead Agencies

State of Emergency declared: Yes (State and Federal)

National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction

Type of Volcanic Activity

Volcán de Fuego history


Situation Reports: Relief Web

Guatemala Open Data sets

Guatemala World Bank statistics

Regional Volcanic Hazard Mapping

USGS Volcanic Hazards Report for Fuego and Acatenango, Guatemala

Social Media

Twitter: CONRED
Facebook: CONRED

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Personal Disaster preparedness revisited

What should I have at home in case of emergency (ICE). This has been asked many times in different ways. Does one really need to prepare to have one of everything or only certain items? Do I need anything at all? Should I bother?

It really depends on your environment, responsibilities, access to support services, before, during and after a crisis or disaster. Much of the planning is asking yourself what limitations you might face during an event. Do you live near the coast exposed during hurricane season? Are you in Arizona that experiences severe drought or power failures? The most obvious supplies everyone already understands, food, medicine, flashlights, etc are not always going to be the only important requirements to protect yourself and your family before an emergency occurs. Do you know which radio stations are the most likely to broadcast emergency alerts? Is your smart phone loaded with your local, regional or Federal Public Safety application? Do you have Amber Alert text messaging enabled?

To be fully prepared is not possible for many. But over time, it can be done and reduce your exposure to severe risk. Flooding, tornadoes, heavy winter snow storms can all be prepared for, up to and including knowing when to evacuate. 99% of preparation is knowledge and using common sense. There are excellent resources worth reading on a wide range of disaster preparedness scenarios from Public Safety Canada, FEMA and many others. Despite what many survivalist claim - any disaster can be prepared for (absolutely false) - the decision making process is often what gets overlooked and how well does one understands the impact of any decisions and choices one has to make. Do you take the time to board up the windows, move valuables to a safe location or do you gather only the critical items and leave. It is the grey area that gets people in trouble. Is it a Category 2 storm that is unlikely to turn anything worse or weakens before it arrives? There have been instances where the storm within hours roars to life from a Category 2 to Category 5 and by then, there's no way to do anything else but evacuate or worse, be stuck where you are when that information is finally known.

The provisions required per person varies depending on the type of event. Drought compared to a blackout during winter in Michigan and dictate how much water you should have on hand.
A gasoline or diesel standby generator will need fuel that is capable of supporting you and your family for several days (winter) or perhaps weeks (Hurricanes, Tornadoes, floods) - if its safe operation can be assured. A generator set won't do you any good if your house is likely to be under 6′ of water in a high risk flood zone. There are also dangers of electric shock when running a generator immediately after a flood if your basement is full of water.

Ice storms are often possible to forecast well in advance including the amount of ice predicted. Stocking up and having alternative sources of heat and electricity is an important consideration in addition to the traditional staples that should be kept in sufficient quantities.

When trees begin to collapse and ice is over an inch thick, roads are not safe to drive on and could be days before maintenance crews can service them. The electricity grid may have severe damage in small pockets or hit across large areas as it did in 1998 across Ontario, Quebec and regions of New York State that took months to restore.
Assessment of your exposure to risk is the first step. How often do natural disasters occur in your area? Do you or your family have any special medical needs that require power to keep medicine cool. Hope many pets do you have and are you ready to evacuate that ensures everyone's safety.

Do you know where all emergency escape routes and have a battery powered radio to listen to alerts. The listing is not endless, but it can be determined rather easily, studying your habitat and analyzing what you must have to survive for X amount of time. Quantities of food, water and personal health items can be multiplied and set aside (and rotated) for use. Living on a known flood plain reduces your options unless solid planning and investments are made. Electricity may not be restored for days, weeks or even months. And even when it is, your home may require extensive repairs before your home can be reconnected and become livable once again. In such cases, evacuation contingency costs should be a high priority in your planning. What I describe below would not work in the  neighborhoods affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma that hit Florida and other Gulf of Mexico States.

I myself recently went through a power outage that lasted 31 hours after a severe wind storm that was forecast. I stocked up on food and pet supplies and bought 50 gallons of fresh gasoline for my 10,000 watt generator. Cleaned up the yard, removing and storing all outside items that could blow away. I also stocked up on 50 gallons of extra water to my existing 50 gallons of reserves because I have a water well. If absolutely necessary, I could connect the well pump to the generator. But what if lightning struck and shorted the wiring, fuse box or the well pump itself.

I had sufficient advance notice to cut down a 32′ tall tree with the help of a neighbor, that was to close to the house and could have ripped away roof shingles and caused extensive damage. I was lucky that I had 2 days warning. I didn't lose a single roof shingle. Some of my neighbors weren't so lucky. I only consumed 10 gallons of fuel after the storm past and power was restored a day and half later. The rest I used in my lawn mowers and car. The water will be rotated as I normally do after 60 days. The generator powered the most important items; two basement flood pumps, fridge, oil fired furnace, 6 lights, a toaster oven and coffee machine. The plan was simple, effective and redundant. I was prepared for 5 - 7 days of isolation and still evacuate if necessary.

My first aid kit was fully stocked and updated (no expired items), and made sure all the small chores that could be done in advance were done such as laundry along with other normal housekeeping duties. Heavy duty extension chords were ready to lay out as necessary and fresh batteries for 6 LED powered flashlights were installed and tested. Other items like candles, blankets, snacks, etc were laid out in the spare bedroom ready to use. The total cost to be ready for the storm was about $500.00

This generator operated for 31 straight hours burning 9 1/2 US gallons of fuel during recent power outage after a severe wind storm knocked out power from the grid at a power load of less than 50% duty cycle. This generator has operated in - 20 C to +30 C weather. It is regularly serviced after every event it was used including oil change and electrical inspection. Any unused fuel is drained from the tank and carburetor to avoid varnishing of internal components. It currently has racked up 400 hours of use over 8 years of service and will be replaced next year.
A 15,000 watt generator permanently installed with a utility dead-man switch (so it can automatically detect when power is off and when it is restored) to the main fuselage box and also has a fuel storage tank that can be drained to rotate fuel on bi-monthly basis, is becoming a popular preparedness item for those living in rural areas. These cost between $2,500 - $3,000 for basic models and can easily exceed $10,000. It should be a model capable of operating during any season and be fully enclosed in its own protected shelter and flood protected where necessary. Never run a portable generator or propane heater indoors of the house or garage because of real danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Over 300 people in the U.S. die every year from such circumstances. Check your local building code requirements on electrical requirements. Many areas that have power outages 3 to 5 times per year,  that it makes sense to have one because they plan to live there permanently for the rest of their lives.

Generator Dead Man Switch is a critical requirement for any installation where a permanent generator installation is being considered. Only a certified electrician should install the transfer switch shown and show you how it works.
A portable generator is useful after a natural disaster strikes for non-flood events. It just can't solve or be used in all scenarios. Is it worth the cost and obligations (maintenance, knowledge and servicing) it requires to be prepared is something only you can answer. For those that live in an apartment complex, there might be restrictions on their use unless authorized by the building manager.

Micro-burst storm or severe thunderstorms often have less than 12 hours warning and can cause significant damage. They often require post disaster repairs that can drag on for weeks or months. Under such circumstances, the recovery process means lots of bureaucracy and time standing in lines or awaiting insurance adjusters to show up. In the meantime, you can survive at home under difficult circumstances with lots of time recovering damaged items and cleaning out ruined items. The supplies required mean possible shortages of some items is likely, but the essentials will probably be available within a reasonable distance of less than 50 miles unless roads are impassable. This is why it is important to know your limitations and have thorough knowledge of your surroundings like the back of your hand and plan for supplies that should always be in sufficient quantities in the home. Dry food goods, alternative cooking options (BBQ, etc). and water. If such storms are annual occurrences, it is a good idea to have specially prepared storage containers that are water proof and large enough to support quantities you and your family need. Store them in the strongest part of your home that is still easy to access for all member of your family. A hallway closet near the front door is often a good place unless its on the windward side of the home. An alternative is the opposite wall or exterior back door closet if one is available. Storing these supplies in the basement may not be best if it is prone to flooding or is easily blocked from obstructions caused by storm damage. The garage can be a good place if it is strongly built and dry. For those who live in humid regions, keeping supplies dry is a difficult chore and should be regularly rotated and kept out of any storage area exposed to direct sunlight or conditions that experiences big swings in air temperature that can result in condensation buildup.

As mentioned earlier, one has to assess their environment, responsibilities and plan accordingly. If you are single and live in downtown New York, you have limited choices. You probably will not be able to have your own generator in an apartment complex, and may have limited access to emergency services for days if not weeks. A plan to evacuate to a safe location well in advance (if at all possible) is worth considering. Retrieving critical documents, making copies and emailing them back to yourself or storing copies on your smart phone is important. Buying any prescription drugs in advance and knowing where you are going is more important than trying to ride out another Hurricane Sandy scale event. If you have a vehicle, it can be one place to keep some items.

If a moderate storm is approaching, expect power outages. Cash will be King. Candles and water proof matches are your best tools. If you happen to be lucky and allowed to use a propane BBQ in a safe outdoor ground area or concrete balcony, whatever is in the freezer will be the first items to consume or discard after 8 hours. The most common recovery techniques in large apartment or condominium complexes is to help each other and pool resources. Safety in numbers helps distribute the workload and reduces costs. Open parking lots of the facility can be used as meet me points and outside emergency BBQ cooking areas if the city allows it. Instead of 50 vehicles driving around attempting to find supplies and limited fuel for vehicles likely, grouping resources has proven effective.

Have a good quality bicycle with lights, flashlight, snacks, heavy duty bike locks and weather proof backpack to move around if you are in good physical shape. The elderly were pushed to their limits during Hurricane Sandy. New York was very lucky people did not perish in large numbers. It was close to becoming a crisis all on its own. Family support and volunteer nurses played a critical role.

Hurricane Sandy FEMA report.

For those in rural or remote regions, most people are already aware of the limits of external support available for daily life let alone during a disaster. The buildup of supplies is already a habit instilled in their mindset. Even then, preparedness can still be a daunting problem. This is especially true of areas vulnerable to large forest fires. The Wood Buffalo forest fire near Fort McMurray nearly ended in total human disaster that escaped serious loss of life by shear luck. Many residence did not evacuate until the very last minute and almost paid the price with their life. Local and regional government failure to order early mandatory evacuations was severely criticized after these events become known by the public.

Wood - Buffalo Forest Fire Report

Urban neighborhoods often have good access to emergency supplies. This still requires planning and talking to your neighbors and understanding what exposure to natural disasters may occur. Many neighborhoods are near industrial estates and everyone needs to be aware of the risks they possibly bring. This is particularly true of chemical refineries or warehouses that contain then. Just ask those that went through the Tianjin Chemical explosion or the West Texas Fertilizer Plant explosion. High quality certified respirator masks (NIOSH N95 or R95) are reasonably priced (less than $45.00 - $65) and can make the difference between being able to evacuate or die from inhaling deadly fumes. If you know you live near a chlorine plant, only certified full face N95 / R95 respirator will work. Chlorine is just one of many hazardous chemicals that need to be prepared for - if you know they exist in your area. Your local Fire Department might have a list of known plants and warehouses. It's not a requirement in most cities for the Fire Department or Fire Marshall Office to transparently show HAZMAT information to the public where such materials are located.

The West, Texas, ammonium nitrate explosion: A failure of regulation

Home furnace and air conditioning HEPA filters will not stop toxic fumes because the air ducts, windows and roof ventilation cannot be properly sealed. You will still need to evacuate if ordered to do so. For some man made disasters, there is very little that can or could have be done by preparing individual emergency supplies. During the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, nothing could have protected the residents with any level of preparedness except to not live in the area near the rail line, which for this town was entirely impractical.

In many parts of the world, access to supplies after a tsunami, earthquake, monsoon, flood, typhoon or mudslides is extremely limited. This forces one to prepare sufficient supplies that can withstand the conditions that are expected - which in many locations is expensive or impractical given the economic conditions that exist. Government agencies are beginning to recognize local limitations and preparing large warehouses and alternative storage locations out of harms way. The goal is to be able to respond within 48 to 72 hours after an event occurs. Even so, at the individual level, the delivery of emergency supplies may still take several days or even weeks to arrive because of logistical obstacles. There can be no doubt, improved shelter structures and planning of evacuation centers needs to continue and be expanded. Several nations are overhauling their Disaster Response plans after many lessons learned and support from the United Nations and countries that have disaster preparedness experience. This year, the government of Thailand updated their Disaster Management Reference Handbook, the first major revision in over a decade. The next step is to increase awareness at the local community level and ensure the population understands government policy and its limitations which in turn will begin the process of personal safety preparedness throughout the country.

Being aware of an impending crisis helps how one can go about preparedness. By having the right supplies for a known event, goes a long way to protecting you and your property. In some cases, it's best not to stock up on supplies to be stored at home but lock down what assets you have (boarding up windows, removing valuables in advance, etc) and evacuating early. Those living in areas like Houston and Dallas, it might actually be better to prepare by ensuring that you always have 4 certified fuel containers that can store up to 40 gallons of fuel and prepare to evacuate you and your family and critical documents and evacuate as early as possible. For those that have large extended family responsibilities, the sooner the decision is made to evacuate, the better. This allows one to make choices and start the logistics move before community panic sets in. For many, there can be no doubt, the primary issue is making the decision and coordinating the family. There always  an emotional tug to attempt to protect property and assets. In some cases, this is possible if one has the means to do so - if time permits. But it isn't always realistic and if more time is spent attempting to protect property assets, the more vulnerable one exposes themselves to the post disaster environment that traps you and your family in place.

As mentioned earlier, having important documents and medical supplies prepared in advance is a significant time saver. If you have friends that live in different cities or towns that live more than 100 miles away from your location, can they help with transportation issues if you plan to evacuate well in advance of the impending event is something that should be considered.

Most Category 3, 4 and 5 Hurricanes and forecast conditions are known at least 3 days in advance - given their large size and mass. For those living anywhere around what is known as Tornado Alley in the U.S., the challenges are more problematic and there is no doubt, seasoned residence in the region, a proper underground shelter is the best protection solution. Cost vary depending on the type and size required and are slowly coming down in price to buy and install. They are priceless and proven to save lives over the last 30 years. Designs are now capable of being installed in most urban neighborhood backyards and can easily accommodate a family of 5 to 7. Above ground shelters still have risks when an EF4 or EF5 tornadoes or hurricanes directly strikes the shelter. We have witnessed 8" thick reinforced concrete walls buckle and collapse during such events. In fact, the larger the wall, the more likely it will incur damage from projectiles and debris. Many cities and counties have begun to revise building codes and designs for designated emergency shelters. As a result, newly constructed high schools and community centers have improved their ability to withstand severe storm events.

Photo Credit: Reuters. May 22nd, an EF5 Tornado struck Oklahoma City in 2013. This shelter saved Charles Taber life. It was built two weeks before the Tornado struck.
Flash flooding is becoming a more common problem in built up areas as Ellicott City Maryland and Werra-Meißner Germany illustrate. Ground saturation reaches 100 percent as rain continues to fall and city sewers overflow. There are very few response steps you can take - after it occurs. This forces one to consider how often likely to happen. Historical records are helpful and can help one determine quantities of supplies should be in place. There is no way to get around this requirement and there is no way the government is going to maintain emergency supplies that can be made available the next day. Flash floods also make it impossible to ready sandbags and put them in place to protect your home from flooding. In some cases, flash floods are a known consequence if other factors such local mountain annual snow pack melt is known and being monitored by government agencies. Even then, the level of risk to property remains high as many in the interior of British Columbia residence have discovered over the passed two years in a row. They were told that the 2017 flood was a 100 year flooding event - except it has now happened twice in a row.

Even more unpredictable are shallow and powerful ocean earthquakes that can trigger large tsunamis. The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 Higashi nihon daishinsai) also known as the Tōhoku (東北地方太平洋沖地震 Tōhoku-chihō Taiheiyō Oki Jishin) Earthquake and Tsunami, killed over 16,000 people. Many of the local populations in each village and city had little warning or opportunity to prepare to evacuate. Those that did have sufficient time and awareness, had become so accustomed to earthquake and tsunami training drills and air siren alerts, that many did not heed the warnings, believing that they were not severe. This was a significant contributor to the number of deaths that occurred. The issue of resiliency and false sense of protection based upon historically good Japanese government preparedness, was an important reason why the government has made significant policy and procedure changes since 2011. The lessons learned from this disaster have different aspects because of the wide area affected by the disaster. In such circumstances, the goal is still the same for individual and collective family preparedness. Know when to remain in place or immediately evacuate knowing precisely where everyone must go. Many failed to remember where the shelters were or the best evacuation routes to use. In these circumstances, the most important items to have at home are not just documents and medicines but also sufficient support items such as a flashlight inside a back pack of snacks along with a radio and spare batteries that should also have  an all weather shelter blanket, that can be quickly retrieved in minutes and evacuate. It's estimated  10% of tsunami fatalities did not even know the tsunami was coming and were struck without any knowledge they were in its direct path.

Even those that were aware of the impeding tsunami, many made the wrong evacuation route choices or worse, did not react at all until the tsunami was literally in their direct path. It was astonishing to see one of the most advanced disaster prepared nations in the world become vulnerable to one of the most common of human weaknesses -  complacency.

Video Credit: Professor Nozomu Yoshida, Tohoku Gakuin University.

So what should you have at home? Everything that is relevant to your environment and exposure to risk with some essential items that have been identified above. Read our previous articles on this subject to learn more on how to stay safe.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Flooding - Okanagan Valley, Central British Columbia, Canada

Okanagan - Central Interior Flooding, British Columbia, Canada

Disaster Event: Spring Flooding (possible mud slides)
Location: Grand Forks, Kelowna, Oliver, Princeton, Okanagan - Similkameen, Cariboo Regional District, Tulameen, Cawston - Keremeos, Cache Creek, Osoyoos

Photo Credit: Canadian Press, Grand Forks B.C. May 12, 2018.

49°54′40″N 119°30′45″W  - Okanagan Lake

49°01′56″N 119°28′05″W - Osoyoos

Lakes: Okanagan Lake, Otter Lake, Kalamalka Lake

Rivers: Okanagan River, Thompson River

Primary Cause: Mountain Snow Pack 152% above normal level

Flood Plain Maps
British Columbia Road Condition Map

Lead Agencies

State of Emergency declared: Yes (Regional and Provincial)

Operations Support
Okanagan Flood History
Social Media