Garden_delights-1 3 part 2014

2018 – 2023 EVT – Complex Catastrophes (Mamominarch)

(update 14 Feb 2014) Any type of similar natural events and catastrophes can be imagined to strike countries, as, for example, storms and floods in Western Europe or snow storms in the U.S. during the Winter 2013-2014.

Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. To face the various difficulties and widespread discontent, in a first scenario, Everstate’s governing bodies implement as policies the conclusions of the Mamominarch Commissiona programme of drastic reduction of state spending over five years through devolution, privatisation and outsourcing. By 2018 EVT,  the result is involution, with a fragilised governance including and implying the rise of lawlessness domestically, an abandoned mastery over international security, an inefficient economy and, as consequence, a rising insecurity for most Everstatans. A series of tragic events then strike Everstate. 

(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab – a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading).

The tornadoes outbreak that hits the Western part of Everstate in May, as well as the other tragic events of the year, results of global pressures accumulated over the years, including in terms of ecological setting.*

Two of those tornadoes  are deadly. They are rated EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale and have a very long track reaching almost 70km.

Hundreds of power transmission towers are taken down, and, as a result, electricity outage occurs in a large part of Everstate’s West.** The scope of civilian disaster is huge. So much of the population is hit. To the fatalities, casualties and people unaccounted for, must be added people finding themselves overnight without shelter. Furthermore, as all communications are severed, evaluation and first emergency is terribly difficult. The tornadoes also hit two industrial sites in this recently industrialised part of Everstate. A corner of the dam of a reservoir containing liquid waste collapses, releasing toxic muds. First, the wave of mud reaches a nearby small town, miraculously spared by the tornadoes and then spills inexorably to reach the Everstatan main river.***

Not far from there, one of the storages of an agrochemical company is ground to pieces. Highly toxic levels of pesticides are released in the air.****

Panic presides to the outbreak and to the first days. Then comes the extreme difficulty of dealing with “complex catastrophes.” In the words of Paul N. Stockton, the assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs,

“Complex catastrophes differ from normal disasters in two ways. First, the scale of destruction is vastly greater… Second,… complex catastrophes may create cascading, region-wide failures of critical infrastructure, starting with the disruption of the commercial electric power grid….This loss of power could create cascading effects on communications and other critical infrastructure. From a public safety perspective, the most immediate concern might be the impact on municipal water systems, ..  Transportation infrastructure could be degraded as well; gas and diesel fuel pumps, for example, depend on electric power to function. While many hospitals and other facilities critical to disaster response efforts have backup diesel-powered generators, we anticipate few will have sufficient fuel on hand to offset power outage lasting weeks to months, and that companies responsible for resupplying them could face a radical mismatch between supply and demand.” in Stockton, “Ten Years After 9/11: Challenges for the Decade to Come,” Homeland Security Affairs, Volume 7, The 9/11 Essays (September 2011).*****


Locally, as the Western areas have never known any natural catastrophe, are not located in a seismic zone, and are not considered as sensitive defense-wise, no preparedness for any natural or even man-made emergency exists.

Novstate, which is contracted for the management of crisis and emergency response nationally, should have had at least the beginning of an emergency plan ready, and should start implementing it. However, it is without counting with a few crucial factors. First, the electricity outage considerably slows and delays all communications, evaluations, transport and logistics, while rapidly increasing hazards to the population as hospitals, notably, will soon run out of fuel for their backup diesel-powered generators. Second, Novstate has not planned for any type of such multi-risk emergencies spreading on large areas, both urban and rural. It has mainly focused on terrorist attacks in the major Everstatan cities. Finally, the involvement of many different companies responsible for so many types of infrastructures, including hospitals, and in charge of various outsourced services creates a highly complex picture of independent intervening actors that have to be identified, organised, and put to work on an emergency, solidarity and not for-profit basis. Furthermore, Novstate’s mandate includes no specific authority to act in such a way. Meanwhile, the political authorities who do have this legitimacy have now to do with a reduced Everstatan central administrative staff, soon overwhelmed by a catastrophe of a type and scale never envisioned.

Finally, after 4 days, prompted by international calls from his counterparts and from the Regional Union, Everstate’s Prime Minister finally asks for international help. Meanwhile, thousands of Everstatans lost their lives; the Everstatan main river has become severely polluted, toxic mud spreading towards the agricultural South and the touristic mouth of the river. The toxic dust has spread with the very strong winds and the full extent of damages will only be discovered with time, but have created health hazards for human beings, biodiversity and most probably impacted soil and water.

Again, the initial absence of overall coordination runs contrary to the efficiency of the assistance, and the Regional Union, incorporating in the lead team Everstatan regional civil servants to respect Everstate’s sovereignty and the Novstate executive responsible for emergencies, has to firmly take over.

Thanks to international help, the crisis is finally contained, but it takes a few months before such services as electricity, which were previously taken for granted, are fully reestablished. Worse damages such as epidemics are avoided. Yet, the terrible environmental impacts are there.  Furthermore, the drought that follows dries up the river helping spread the toxic mud changed in dust over even larger areas of the country.

The Everstatan quagmire has highlighted the high difficulty of complex catastrophes’  management and intervention, notably in a context of privatised infrastructures and outsourcing. It is reviewed and criticised internationally by multiple instances. As a result, Everstate’s model begins to be seriously questioned, which has indirect negative effects on the export of services, as the Everstatan Mamominarch-type of knowledge and skills is now considered as inadequate. Yet, Novstate manages to turn the tragedy to its advantage, and can now sell its unique expertise.

The overall direct and indirect cost of the tornadoes outbreak is very high. Security has definitely not been ensured and, seeing the slow rate of reconstruction, the absence of hope of much help considering the already overall difficult situation of Everstate before the tornadoes, Western refugees start moving towards other areas.

To be continued

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* According to Munich-Re, “A sequence of devastating earthquakes and a large number of weather-related catastrophes made 2011 the costliest year ever in terms of natural catastrophe losses….With some 820 loss-relevant events, the figures for 2011 were in line with the average of the last ten years. 90% of the recorded natural catastrophes were weather-related – however, nearly two-thirds of economic losses and about half the insured losses stemmed from geophysical events, principally from the large earthquakes. Normally, it is the weather-related natural catastrophes that are the dominant loss drivers.” Munich-Re, “Review of Natural Catastrophes in 2011,” 4 January 2012. Download pdf.

** The video was published on Nov 17, 2011 by AssociatedPress and posted on YouTube: “A tornado ravaged three neighborhoods in the outskirts of the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, damaging dozens of private homes and warehouses but was not responsible for any deaths. (Nov. 17).” For a recent example of a very destructive tornadoes outbreak, see the U.S. 2011 Super Outbreak, which occurred from April 25 to 28, 2011.

*** Inspiration for this part comes from the Ajka alumina plant accident in Hungary (4 October 2010) – The video on YouTube “VÖRÖSISZAP” – “RED SLUDGE” was uploaded by marta9ful on Oct 14, 2010.

**** The idea came from the sadly famous Bophal disaster in India (2–3 December 1984). Watch “Seconds From Disaster – Bhopal nightmare [Full Episode 45:05],” National Geographic Channel.

***** Stockton also emphasises that local authorities would need to ask for (in the case of the U.S., federal) help.

“Responding to those requests in a timely manner could create complex challenges for the department [of defense] in sourcing the requested capabilities, transporting them, and then providing for their reception, staging, onward movement, and integration in a severely disrupted environment.”

Featured image: Part of the third part of the Triptych The Garden of Earthly delights by Bosch via Wikimedia Commons

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