Natural hazards like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes often come to mind when we think of disasters. However, some of the deadliest disasters have been man-made. Events like oil spills, nuclear explosions, and gas leaks have led to mass destruction, contamination, and casualties worldwide.
This article will look at some past human-made disaster events and discuss ways to prevent and prepare for future occurrences.
What is a Man-Made Disaster?
Man-made, or human-made, disasters are incidents that threaten society, resulting from human error, negligence, or improper actions. Man-made disasters often occur when a human-made system fails or an organization lacks a preventative plan. Consequences include property destruction, loss of lives, or harm to the population and environment.
Man-made disasters are primarily unplanned, unforeseen events; however, some, such as terrorist attacks and mass shootings, are planned.
Other human-made disasters include oil spills, gas leaks, nuclear meltdowns, water contamination crises, smog from pollution, mine collapses, and chemical explosions.
We can also use the term man-made disaster to refer to human actions that favor the occurrence of a natural disaster. For example, deforestation, a human activity, can lead to flooding and drought natural disasters.
Examples of Man-Made Disasters
To prevent future disasters, organizations can analyze past human-made disasters. Updated processes, improved systems, and additional training are often needed to reduce the risk of repeat occurrences. Let’s take a look at three past incidents.
Chernobyl Nuclear Accident
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant incident is probably one of the most famous man-made disasters, occurring in 1986. The Chernobyl accident resulted from a flawed design process, lack of employee training, and absence of safety procedures.
Two workers died due to the explosion, and 28 others died because of acute radiation exposure. In addition, thousands of people had to evacuate from surrounding cities, and contaminant clean-up efforts are still ongoing.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
One of the worst and largest oil spills in history was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. An oil rig exploded while drilling a deep exploratory well off the coast of Louisiana.
The explosion killed 11 crew members, and several others were injured. In addition, over 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the gulf because of the rig’s damage. The spill destroyed hundreds of thousands of animal species and habitats as well.
Flint Water Crisis
The Flint Water Crisis was created by a change in water source when Michigan officials decided to switch from Detroit City to the Flint River as the source. Residents were suspicious of the new water source, and a boil order went into effect soon after.
Officials found harmful coliform bacteria in the water and high levels of lead. The new water source also led to outbreaks of Legionnaire disease. At least 12 people were killed, and 90 were injured in this human-made disaster, with ongoing efforts and outcry, including from celebrities, to clean the supply.
Ways to Prevent Future Incidents
When looking at past man-made incidents, we can draw some general conclusions about how to prevent or minimize the effects of future ones.
- Locate nuclear and chemical power plants and materials away from human-populated areas.
- Implement immediate and clear communication plans at the local, national, and international levels. Especially regarding nuclear disasters, as these often extend beyond borders.
- Conduct pilot studies and continued surveillance when implementing changes that could affect public health.
- Use safe infrastructure (i.e., replace lead piping).
- Create policies to monitor and enforce safe storage of hazardous materials and chemicals.
- Implement plans that outline immediate response procedures in the case of a disaster.
- Design a long-term contingency plan for mitigating man-made disaster effects.
- Obey and enforce regulations regarding removing trees, building fires, burning organic materials, and disposing waste.
- Educate the public with clear instructions on what to do during each disaster (i.e., evacuation procedures, stay-at-home orders, etc.).
- Conduct a risk assessment before performing any experiments, potentially hazardous processes, or activities that could lead to harmful outcomes.
Developing an Emergency Response Plan
As many human-made disasters can be nearly impossible to predict, planning is key to minimizing adverse effects. An effective emergency response plan can be the difference between life and death in these situations. An emergency response plan involves the following steps.
- Conduct a risk assessment to identify hazardous or threatening scenarios, assets at risk, and potential impacts.
- Assess the resources and equipment available internally and externally to stabilize an incident.
- Determine emergency services (i.e., police, fire department, etc.) response time and knowledge of your facility.
- Review any existing regulations at your facility regarding emergency response and planning. Add them to any updated or new emergency response plans.
- Develop protective measures to prevent loss of lives (i.e., shelter in place, evacuation, etc.)
- Develop emergency-specific procedures for each hazard and threat identified in the risk assessment.
- Coordinate emergency response plans with emergency service teams.
- Train personnel and employees so they can adequately fulfill their responsibilities and roles.
- Inform the team of the emergency response plan and practice it.
Man-made disasters, just like natural disasters, can have devastating and potentially long-term effects. Therefore, businesses and facilities should constantly plan, prepare, and train employees to minimize the risk of occurrence. Reading this list and creating an emergency response plan can help you stay vigilant and get prepared ahead of any events.