As has been expressed in the Red Cross WDR 2015, I was initially drawn to trending which seem to suggest there is a decline in disasters occurring annually. The information provided through the Red Cross WDR is quite compelling, but it left me to consider why. As was noted in the Torqaid supporting documentation, this reduction could very well be due to a range of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) initiatives. The data on natural disasters was quite clear.

Then I thought that I should look at what, if anything, could be gleaned from a review of technological disasters, in the last decade that would point to a lower trending. There would appear to be a reduction in technological disasters, but the challenges and outcomes still present themselves. Here in North America, we need look no further than a couple of examples that stand out, the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon ‘Macondo’ spill, with 11 fatalities and the largest accidental marine oil spill in history and the Lac Megantic, Quebec crude oil train explosion, with 47 killed and the centre of the town destroyed. Human error, within poorly management safety systems, was the single largest contributing factor.

Although I have a background in natural disaster response in Western Canada (interface wildfires, regional flooding and earthquakes),
I am currently much more in involved in technological disaster studies as a professional health and safety consultant, with my main activities related to health and safety management systems. A range of authors, such as James Reason and Charles Perrow have provided excellent material from their studies on human error and the factors related to organizational accidents in ‘tightly coupled’ systems, such as those found in oil and gas processing and distribution.

I tried to provide the James Reason’s ‘Swiss Cheese’ model of how accidents can happen to illustrate my point, but was unsuccessful in this forum. You can look it up, though! It is a classic illustration and supports disaster risk reduction concepts as far the work pertains to health, safety and environmental management systems. .

In my view, I think there is a great deal of work that could be done to support significant reductions in human and other losses as a result of technological disasters. The problem is that we are all human and humans can mess up! Future research for myself will include how behavioural-based initiatives in complex, high risk settings my qualitatively, if not quantitatively, reduce the number of these types of disasters.