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Disasters are not all that Bad

Posted in: Man Made Disasters Started by

Disasters are not all that Bad

If I were to tell you that disasters are good, would you believe me? 

I believe that even though we do not like disasters for obvious reasons, there is a positive side to disasters that is often over looked. To a very large extent, I believe that disasters help us in at least three different ways:


The Positive Side of Natural Disasters:

In 2008, more than 80,000 wildfires burned through 5.5 million acres in US, according to the National Inter-agency Fire Center. Well over 900,000 people were forced to evacuate in one way or the other. There is no doubt that those wildfires wrecked havoc in various communities. 

Notwithstanding the negative effects, wildfires also help to regenerate and rejuvenate our forest. Without wildfires, much of the dense of undergrowth will pile up to create conditions of catastrophic fires. 

Besides regenerating forest, wildfires also pump nutrients into the forest soil. This happens when fires consume  wood and the carbon within. The phosphorous and potassium that is a by-product of this process is vital as plant food and helps to spur the growth of a new generation of plants. Thus, even though we do not like fires, they are a natural part of the environment.

The Positive Side of Man-Made Disasters:

Years ago, as a fire captain, I once responded to a fire a top a academic institution in which human negligence had contributed significantly to a fire in a chromatography laboratory. During the course of my fire investigation, I found out that the fire originated from a faulty an air con unit. For months, the air con unit had been tripping and malfunctioning. Nobody ever reported the problem to management.

It became evident after examining the bits and pieces that the fire was caused by overheating of the malfunctioning air con unit. The issue at stake was clearly human negligence. If any of the people who used that lab had notified facility management about the problem, it would have been addressed. Unfortunately, nobody did that and human negligence was the culprit.

Thanks to the lessons from that incident, the management created a mandatory policy that every malfunctioning equipment on campus must be reported of facility management. Without, that element of human failure, that institution should not have come up with a proactive policy. Thus, the disaster was the at root of that solution.

The Positive Side of Technological Disasters:

Have you ever wondered why the aviation industry is so particular about the black box in the aftermath of an air disaster? I believe the reason is that it leaves clues as to the cause of the accident. Years ago, I attended a workshop for airline emergency response. During the course of the one week course organized by IATA, I learned so much about the airline industry and how it goes handles emergency preparedness, response and recovery.

One of the key things I learned from the program is that most air disasters are caused by human failings. The most critical take-away for me was that each time an investigation found a technical cause to blame for any major accident, the aviation industry worked diligently to change, improve or correct that technical problem.

I went away from that workshop with a clear understanding of the fact that today ‘s technological disasters serve as the basis for tomorrow ‘s technological fixes. Without the tech disasters of today, tomorrow products will not be as good as we desire them to be. 

It is thus very clear to me that the organizations or communities that pay attention to preparedness issues, can be better prepared by learning from the mistakes of the past so as to benefit from the positive side of disasters.