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Over the past few months, volcanic eruptions throughout Indonesia have made the news for the disruption to human life in Indonesia and the inconvenience caused by airlines cancelling flights to and from Bali. The current eruptions have been accompanied by travel insurance companies taking a clear risk leadership position, withdrawing coverage to people insisting on travelling into an area being impacted by an active volcano.
But what if the real problems are yet to come?
Volcanic eruption and its impact on modern life is not a big consideration in most business risk statements. Australia has been mainly free of the effects of volcanic eruption for most recorded history but we don’t have to look far to see how we could be significantly impacted by a regional volcano undergoing an explosive eruption.
In May 1980, Mt St Helens in Washington State ejected “about 0.3 cubic mile of uncompacted ash” (USGS) resulting in the loss of 57 lives and more than 200 homes, as well as damage to 185 miles of highways and roads. Over 1000 flights were affected while everyday lifelines – electricity, sewage and fresh water – were disrupted in Washington State.
In 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano threw Atlantic and European air travel into chaos when it pumped huge volumes of ash directly into a very stable jet stream, which sent the volcanic debris across Europe and the UK.
So, what does this mean for business in Australia?
Our recent experience is of small eruptions stopping Australians travelling to and from Bali, beyond that it is limited. But what if Mt Agung, Mt Butur or any of the 125 other active volcanos in Indonesia erupt with the ferocity of Krakatoa in 1883?
That eruption fired ash an estimated 80km into the atmosphere, dropped average global temperatures by around 1.2 degrees. While the explosion itself, along with tsunamis, pyroclastic flows, food production loss and contamination of fresh water probably killed 36,000 people.
We don’t really know what the effect of such a massive disruption could be to life in Australia. The obvious is the immediate loss of any international jet travel through the ash cloud, but what would it do to shipping, electricity and international communications (including to cloud computing services that are so reliant on the international undersea cable network)?
Effective planning means you need to think about the most likely disruptions first; but remember to consider less likely, potentially more damaging possibilities. Talk to one of the Tigertail team about how to test your emergency, crisis and continuity plans today.
With thanks to the US Geological Service and linked sources.