When It Hits the Fan/Specific Calamities
Calamity. From the Latin clāmāre (“to shout, proclaim, declare, cry out”); Latin calamitās (“loss, damage; disaster”). Most calamities resonate across time and are historic facts. But a calamity prediction is a shout to action as to avoid a future disaster. The root of the word disaster ("bad star" in Greek) comes from an astrological idea that when the stars are in a bad position a bad event will happen.
Any disaster is a tragedy born out of a natural occurrence or human-made activity. Increasingly they have in origin of a human-made hazard that negatively affects society or environment.
In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risks are the product of hazards and vulnerability. Hazards that strike in areas with low vulnerability are not considered a disaster, as is the case in uninhabited regions.
Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits – more than 95 percent of all deaths caused by disasters occur in developing countries, and losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.
A disaster can be defined as any tragic event that involves at least one victim of circumstance, such as an accident, fire, terrorist attack, or explosion.
There are plenty of reasons to be worried, but chances are that you will never experience any of these calamities, the best way of avoiding such events (or survive them) is ultimately simple be aware of the possibility and informed. Things like our solar system being "eaten" by a black hole or galactic collisions (that will certainly happen), haven't been put on the list because probability that they will affect you is 0 or very near.
A Natural phenomenon can easily turn into a natural disaster. Appearing to arise without direct human involvement, natural disasters are sometimes called an act of God as they defy logical explanation or scientific reason for their occurrence.
A natural disaster may become more severe because of human actions prior, during or after the disaster itself. A specific disaster may spawn different types of events and may reduce the survivability of the initial event. A classic example, is an earthquake that collapses homes, trapping people and breaking gas mains that then ignite, and burn people alive while trapped under debris. Human activity in risk areas may cause natural disasters. Volcanoes are particularly prone to causing other events like fires, lahars, mudflows, landslides, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
Disasters resulting form an element of human intent, negligence, error or involving a failure of a human controlled system are called man-made disasters. Man-made disasters like power or telecommunication outages, may be caused by natural causes, like thunderstorms, tornadoes or earthquakes and though the root cause is an act of God, they are considered a man-made disaster because they not only involve a failure of a human system but are mostly predictable and can be planed for. The power grid and telecommunication infrastructure could be made more resilient against outages however, probably due to cost and feasibility constraints, the systems were intentionally left vulnerable to outage. With an increase in complexity of the failed human system there is also an increase in the likelihood that it becomes systemic.
- Climate change
Climate change is a trend that seems intrinsically connected to human activities even if humans are not the sole cause, they are undoubtedly a major factor. Climate change is not only characterized by a rise of medium level temperatures but also of quickly changing extremes and increased unpredictability. Another result is that the rise in medium temperatures has contributed to the melting of ice water consistently in existing glaciers (they have been retreating for some time) and on the poles. It also includes a rise on the carbon level on the atmosphere that lead to ocean water acidification and collaborates in the greenhouse effect.
Flood Maps (http://flood.firetree.net/) is a WEB tool that permits to visualize the results of sea water level rise, in relation to coastal areas, it does not take in consideration normal erosion not claims to be extremely exact its errors are on the optimistic side.
The study of climate change and its effect are looked in more depth on the wikibook Climate Change. Climate change my be a cause of specific whether related calamities because of the increased predictability, that may also effect food supplies and production. In 2011 unusual floods even impacted on the price of hard-disks since factories had been geographically concentrated, this type of disruptions will tend to occur more often and in faster cycles.
A snowstorm is a winter storm in which the primary form of precipitation is snow. When such a storm is accompanied by winds above 32 mph that severely reduce visibility, it becomes a blizzard. Hazards from snowstorms and blizzards include traffic-related accidents, hypothermia for those unable to find shelter, as well as major disruptions to transportation and fuel and power distribution systems.
A hailstorm is a natural disaster where a thunderstorm produces a numerous amount of hailstones which damage the location in which they fall. Hailstorms can be especially devastating to farm fields, ruining crops and damaging equipment. A particularly damaging hailstorm hit Munich, Germany on August 31, 1986, felling thousands of trees and causing millions of dollars in insurance claims. Skeleton Lake, a glacial lake in Uttarakhand state of India, was named so after 300-600 people were killed by a hailstorm.
Hurricane, Typhoon, or Tropical cyclone
A hurricane is a low-pressure cyclonic storm system which forms over the oceans. It is caused by evaporated water which comes off of the ocean and becomes a storm. The Coriolis Effect causes the storms to spin, and a hurricane is declared when this spinning mass of storms attains a wind speed greater than 74mph. In different parts of the world hurricanes are known as cyclones or typhoons. The former occur in the Indian Ocean, while the latter occur in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The most damaging hurricane ever was Hurricane Andrew, which hit southern Florida in 1992.
A storm surge is an onshore rush of water associated with a low pressure weather system, typically a tropical cyclone. Storm surge is caused primarily by high winds pushing on the ocean's surface. The wind causes the water to pile up higher than the ordinary sea level. Storm surges are particularly damaging when they occur at the time of a high tide, combining the effects of the surge and the tide. The highest storm surge ever recorded was produced by the 1899 Bathurst Bay Hurricane, which caused a 13 m (43 feet) storm surge at Bathurst Bay, Australia. In the US, the greatest recorded storm surge was generated by Hurricane Camille, which produced a storm surge in excess of 25 feet (7.6 m).
A tornado is a natural disaster resulting from a thunderstorm. Tornadoes are violent currents of wind which can blow at up to 318mph. Tornadoes can occur one at a time, or can occur in large tornado outbreaks along a squall line. The worst tornado ever recorded in terms of wind speed was the tornado which swept through Moore, Oklahoma on May 3, 1999. This tornado has wind speeds of 318mph and was the strongest ever recorded.
A waterspout is a tornadic weather phenomena normally occurring over tropical waters in light rain conditions. They form at the base of cumulus-type clouds, extend to the water surface where winds pick up water spray. Waterspouts are dangerous to boats, planes and land structures. Many waterspouts occur in the Bermuda Triangle and are suspected of being the a cause of the many missing ships and planes in that region.
A drought is a long-lasting weather pattern consisting of dry conditions with very little or no precipitation. during this period, food and water supplies can run low, and other conditions, such as famine, can result. Droughts can last for several years and are particularly damaging in areas in which the residents depend on agriculture for survival. The Dust Bowl is a famous example of a severe drought.
Droughts are slowly evolving calamities, they can be planed for and with enough resources have their impact demolished. Unless the drought affects a full continent (lets say Australia) a drought can hardly be seen as a calamity that one needs to prepare specifically.
A catch-all initialism meaning Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear. The term is used to describe a non-conventional terror threat that, if used by a nation, would be considered use of a weapon of mass destruction. This term is used primarily in the United Kingdom. Planning for a CBRN event may be appropriate for certain high-risk or high-value facilities and governments.
In this section we will not cover radiological threats, they will be covered in separate since are more distinct and rarer in occurrence by have higher and long lasting impacts.
The U.S. government today regulates 15 biological agents and in Set. 2014 asked universities to flag risky pathogen experiments.
- Avian influenza virus (highly pathogenic)
- Bacillus anthracis
- Botulinum neurotoxin
- Burkholderia mallei
- Burkholderia pseudomallei
- Ebola virus
- Foot-and-mouth disease virus
- Francisella tularensis
- Marburg virus
- Reconstructed 1918 Influenza virus
- Rinderpest virus
- Toxin-producing strains of Clostridium botulinum
- Variola major virus
- Variola minor virus
- Yersinia pestis
Disease becomes a disaster when it spreads in a pandemic or epidemic as a massive outbreak off an infectious agent. Disease is historically the most dangerous of all natural disasters. Different epidemics are caused by different diseases, the Black Death, smallpox, and AIDS. The Spanish flu of 1918 was the deadliest ever epidemic, it killed 25-40 million people. The Black Death, which occurred in the 14th Century, killed over 20 million people, one third of Europe's population. Plant and animal life may also be affected by disease epidemics and pandemics.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a pandemic can start when three conditions have been met:
- the emergence of a disease new to the population.
- the agent infects humans, causing serious illness.
- the agent spreading is sustainable and easy among humans.
A disease or condition is not a pandemic merely because it is widespread or kills many people; it must also be infectious. For example cancer is responsible for many deaths but is not considered a pandemic because the disease is not infectious or contagious (although certain causes of some types of cancer might be).
WHO pandemic influenza phases
The World Health Organization global influenza preparedness plan defines the stages of pandemic influenza, outlines the role of WHO and makes recommendations for national measures before and during a pandemic. The phases are:
- Phase 1: No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans.
- Phase 2: No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans, but an animal variant threatens human disease.
Pandemic alert period:
- Phase 3: Human infection(s) with a new subtype but no human-to-human spread.
- Phase 4: Small cluster(s) with limited localized human-to-human transmission
- Phase 5: Larger cluster(s) but human-to-human spread still localized.
- Phase 6: Increased and sustained transmission in general population.
Pandemics and notable epidemics through history
There have been a number of significant pandemics recorded in human history, generally zoonoses that came about with domestication of animals — such as influenza and tuberculosis. There have been a number of particularly significant epidemics that deserve mention above the "mere" destruction of cities:
- Typhoid fever, during thePeloponnesian War, 430 BC, killed a quarter of the Athenian troops and a quarter of the population over four years. This disease fatally weakened the dominance of Athens, but the sheer virulence of the disease prevented its wider spread; i.e. it killed off its hosts at a rate faster than they could spread it. The exact cause of the plague was unknown for many years; in January 2006, researchers from the University of Athens analyzed teeth recovered from a mass grave underneath the city, and confirmed the presence of bacteria responsible for typhoid. 
- Antonine Plague, 165 – 180. Possibly smallpox brought back from the Near East; killed a quarter of those infected and up to five million in all. At the height of a second outbreak (251–266) 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome.
- Bubonic plague also named in the first recorded outbreak as the Plague of Justinian, from 541 to 750. It started in Egypt and reached Constantinople the following spring, killing (according to the Byzantine chronicler Procopius) 10,000 a day at its height and perhaps 40% of the city's inhabitants. Plague went on to eliminate a quarter to a half of the human population that it struck throughout the known world.  It caused the Europe's population to drop by around 50% between 550 and 700.
- The Black Death, started 1300s. Eight hundred years after the last outbreak, the bubonic plague returned to Europe. Starting in Asia, the disease reached Mediterranean and western Europe in 1348 (possibly from Italian merchants fleeing fighting in the Crimea), and killed 20 to 30 million Europeans in six years, a third of the total population and up to a half in the worst-affected urban areas.
- The English Sweat, that struck England, and later continental Europe, in a series of epidemics beginning in 1485. The last outbreak occurred in 1551, after which the disease apparently vanished. The onset of symptoms was dramatic and sudden, with death often occurring within hours making it even more feared than the bubonic plague. Its cause is still unknown.
- Typhus, sometimes called "camp fever" because of its pattern of flaring up in times of strife. (It is also known as "gaol fever" and "ship fever", for its habits of spreading wildly in cramped quarters, such as jails and ships.) Emerging during the Crusades, it had its first impact in Europe in 1489 in Spain. During fighting between the Christian Spaniards and the Muslims in Granada, the Spanish lost 3,000 to war casualties and 20,000 to typhus. In 1528 the French lost 18,000 troops in Italy and lost supremacy in Italy to the Spanish. In 1542, 30,000 people died of typhus while fighting the Ottomans in the Balkans. The disease also played a major role in the destruction of Napoleon's Grande Armée in Russia in 1812. Typhus also killed numerous prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
- The "first" pandemic of 1510 traveled from Africa and spread across Europe.
- The "Asiatic Flu", 1889–1890. Was first reported in May of 1889 in Bukhara, Russia. By October, it had reached Tomsk and the Caucasus. It rapidly spread west and hit North America in December 1889, South America in February – April 1890, India in February-March 1890, and Australia in March – April 1890. It was purportedly caused by the H2N8 type of flu virus and had a very high attack and mortality rate.
- The "Spanish flu", 1918–1919. First identified early March 1918 in US troops training at Camp Funston, Kansas, by October 1918 it had spread to become a world-wide pandemic on all continents. Unusually deadly and virulent, it ended nearly as quickly as it began, vanishing completely within 18 months. In six months, 25 million were dead; some estimates put the total of those killed worldwide at over twice that number. An estimated 17 million died in India, 500,000 in the United States and 200,000 in the UK. The virus was recently reconstructed by scientists at the CDC studying remains preserved by the Alaskan permafrost. They identified it as a type of H1N1 virus.
- The "Asian Flu", 1957–58. An H2N2 caused about 70,000 deaths in the United States. First identified in China in late February 1957, the Asian flu spread to the United States by June 1957.
- The "Hong Kong Flu", 1968–69. An H3N2 caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses still circulate today.
- first pandemic 1816 – 1826. Previously restricted to the Indian subcontinent, the pandemic began in Bengal, then spread across India by 1820. It extended as far as China and the Caspian Sea before receding.
- The second pandemic (1829–1851) reached Europe, London in 1832, Ontario Canada and New York in the same year, and the Pacific coast of North America by 1834.
- The third pandemic (1852–1860) mainly affected Russia, with over a million deaths.
- The fourth pandemic (1863–1875) spread mostly in Europe and Africa.
- In 1866 there was an outbreak in North America.
- In 1892 cholera contaminated the water supply of Hamburg, Germany, and caused 8,606 deaths.
- The seventh pandemic (1899–1923) had little effect in Europe because of advances in public health, but Russia was badly affected again.
- The eighth pandemic began in Indonesia in 1961, called El Tor after the strain, and reached Bangladesh in 1963, India in 1964, and the USSR in 1966.
Effects of Colonization. Encounters between European explorers and populations in the rest of the world often introduced local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. Disease killed the entire native (Guanches) population of the Canary Islands in the 16th century. Half the native population of Hispaniola in 1518 was killed by smallpox. Smallpox also ravaged Mexico in the 1520s, killing 150,000 in Tenochtitlán alone, including the emperor, and Peru in the 1530s, aiding the European conquerors. Measles killed a further two million Mexican natives in the 1600s. Some believe that the death of 90 to 95 percent of the Native American population of the New World was caused by Old World diseases. As late as 1848–49, as many as 40,000 out of 150,000 Hawaiians are estimated to have died of measles, whooping cough and influenza.
Dengue. Spread of Dengue disease in South Asia by a mosquito.
There are also a number of unknown diseases that were extremely serious but have now vanished, so the etiology of these diseases cannot be established.
Concern about possible future pandemics
Ebola virus and other quickly lethal diseases
Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever are highly contagious and deadly diseases with the theoretical potential to become pandemics. Their ability to spread efficiently enough to cause a pandemic is limited as transmission of these viruses requires close contact with the infected vector. Furthermore, the short time between a vector becoming infectious and the onset of symptoms allows medical professionals to quickly quarantine vectors and prevent them from carrying the pathogen elsewhere. In general each outbreak if not closely related in time and geography will often be a new strain of the virus and genetic mutations could occur which could elevate their potential for causing widespread harm, thus close observation by contagious disease specialists is merited.
It is also interesting to note that conditions that potentiate the contamination change, for example the circumstances to contract the virus are completely different in West Africa than they are in Russia or the USA. Not only there are environmental aspects but cultural and even technological distinctions. One example is that the possibility of Ebola to spread by aerosol (trough mist in air) seems to increase in cold and dry conditions that do not exist in Africa, another is how contamination often results in contact with specific animals (or animal products) that require a specific geographic location and cultural/economic circumstance.
Antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, sometimes referred to as "superbugs", may contribute to the re-emergence of diseases which are currently well-controlled. For example, cases of tuberculosis that are resistant to traditionally effective treatments remain a cause of great concern to health professionals. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 50 million people worldwide are infected with multiple-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB), with 79 percent of those cases resistant to three or more antibiotics. In 2005, 124 cases of MDR TB were reported in the United States. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) was identified in Africa in 2006, and subsequently discovered to exist in 17 countries including the United States.
In the past 20 years, common bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Serratia marcescens and Enterococcus, have developed resistance to various antibiotics such as vancomycin, as well as whole classes of antibiotics, such as the aminoglycosides and cephalosporins. Antibiotic-resistant organisms have become an important cause of health care-associated (nosocomial) infections (HAI). In addition, infections caused by community-acquired strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in otherwise healthy individuals, have become more frequent in recent years.
HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — is of pandemic proportions with infection rates as high as 25% in southern and eastern Africa. Effective education about safer sexual practices and bloodborne infection precautions training have helped to slow down infection rates in several African countries sponsoring national education programs. Infection rates are rising again in Asia and the Americas. See AIDS pandemic.
In 2003, there were concerns that SARS, a new, highly contagious form of atypical pneumonia caused by a coronavirus dubbed SARS-CoV, might become pandemic. Rapid action by national and international health authorities such as the World Health Organization helped slow transmission and eventually broke the chain of transmission, ending the localized epidemics before they could become a pandemic. The disease has not been eradicated, however, and could re-emerge unexpectedly, warranting monitoring and case reporting of suspicious cases of atypical pneumonia.
Wild aquatic birds are the natural hosts for a range of influenza A viruses. Occasionally viruses are transmitted from these species to other species and may then cause outbreaks in domestic poultry or (rarely) give rise to a human pandemic.  
In February 2004, avian influenza virus was detected in birds in Vietnam, increasing fears of the emergence of new variant strains. It is feared that if the avian influenza virus combines with a human influenza virus (in a bird or a human), the new subtype created could be both highly contagious and highly lethal in humans. Such a subtype could cause a global influenza pandemic, similar to the Spanish Flu, or the lower mortality pandemics such as the Asian Flu and the Hong Kong Flu.
In October 2005, cases of the avian flu (the deadly strain H5N1) were identified in Turkey. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus. There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China." Cases of bird flu were also identified shortly thereafter in Romania, and then Greece. Possible cases of the virus have also been found in Croatia, Bulgaria and in the United Kingdom .
By November 2007 numerous confirmed cases of the H5N1 strain had been identified across Europe . However, by the end of October only 59 people had died as a result of H5N1 which was atypical of previous influenza pandemics.
Despite sensational media reporting, avian flu cannot yet be categorized as a "pandemic" because the virus cannot yet cause sustained and efficient human-to-human transmission. Cases so far are recognized to have been transmitted from bird to human, but as of December 2006 there have been very few (if any) cases of proven human-to-human transmission. Regular influenza viruses establish infection by attaching to receptors in the throat and lungs, but the avian influenza virus can only attach to receptors located deep in the lungs of humans, requiring close, prolonged contact with infected patients and thus limiting person-to-person transmission. The current WHO phase of pandemic alert is level 3, described as "no or very limited human-to-human transmission."
- Cambridge Catalog page "Plague and the End of Antiquity" Quotes from book "Plague and the End of Antiquity" Lester K. Little, ed., Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750, Cambridge, 2006. ISBN 0-521-84639-0
- The History of the Bubonic Plague
- Death on a Grand Scale
- Plague - LoveToKnow 1911
- Beveridge, W.I.B. (1977) Influenza: The Last Great Plague: An Unfinished Story of Discovery, New York: Prodist. ISBN 0-88202-118-4.
- Potter, C.W. (October 2001). "A History of Influenza". Journal of Applied Microbiology 91 (4): 572-579. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2672.2001.01492.x. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2672.2001.01492.x. Retrieved 2006-08-20.
- John M. Barry, (2004). The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History. Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-89473-7.
- The Story Of... Smallpox
- Smallpox: Eradicating the Scourge
- Klenk et al (2008). "Avian Influenza: Molecular Mechanisms of Pathogenesis and Host Range". Animal Viruses: Molecular Biology. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-22-6. http://www.horizonpress.com/avir.
- Kawaoka Y (editor). (2006). Influenza Virology: Current Topics. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-06-6 . http://www.horizonpress.com/flu.
The definition of accident is at times very murky, an accident strictly speaking results from an unplanned failure, but the categorization of accidents depends on the observer of the event. Some "accidents" may be even intentionally created or at least considered as a possible result for the causer.
We live in an ecosphere where a multitude of biological agents compete amongst themselves for resources and survival, our planet is a semi-closed system making all the biology therein highly dependent on each-other directly, like in a hunter-pray or symbiotic relation or simply dependent on the actions that other agents perform in the system.
An accident can be categorized of a biological nature if the cause is a biological process but most often the classification is also used to include any accident that affects the normal biological functions in a system and this makes if very difficult to distinguish for example a toxic accident from a biological one. Take for instance the recent issue regarding the decline of the population of domesticated bees, a 50% decline in the U.S and the E.U. at the start of 2013. It is at the same time a problem of toxic poisoning due to pesticide use and a biological one due to the genetic manipulation of crops both affecting the immune system of the bees and promoting the spread and lethality of natural occurring diseases, allied with the already depressed quality of the environment due to pollution and the rapidly altering weather patterns resulting from climate change. A problem so grave that there are concerns that it may even lead to the extinction of the species if not corrected.
"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." — Albert Einstein.
This natural disaster is caused by the eruption of a volcano, and eruptions come in many forms. They range from daily small eruptions which occur in places; like Kilauea, in Hawaii, or extremely infrequent supervolcano eruptions in places like Lake Toba. Recent large volcanic eruptions include that of Mount St. Helens and Krakatoa, occurring in 1980 and 1883, respectively.
A Lahar is a water, mud, rock and debris slide along rivers, caused by the sudden melting of a snow-capped volcano during, or as a consequence, of an eruption.
The eruption of the Volcán del Ruiz in Colombia produced massive lahars which ran down the rivers and creeks. One of these lahars jumped on a valley with a wave of 60 mt. (200 ft.)in height and struck the town of Armero in the night of November 13, 1985, causing the leveling of 80% of the town's buildings and houses. The death toll was estimated at 25,000 deaths, but recent estimates put the figure in 21,000 deaths. In a touch of irony, the graveyard of Armero was spared of destruction. Armero tragedy 
A sudden release of asphyxiating or inflammable gas from a lake. Three lakes are at risk of limnic eruptions, Lake Nyos, Lake Monoun, and Lake Kivu. A 1986 limnic eruption of 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 from Lake Nyos suffocated 1,800 people in a 20 mile radius. In 1984, a sudden out-gassing of CO2 had occurred at Lake Monoun, killing 37 local residents. Lake Kivu, with concentrations of methane and CO2, has not experienced a limnic eruption during recorded history, but is suspected of having periodic eruptions every 1,000 years.
An earthquake is a sudden shift or movement in the tectonic plate in the Earth's crust. On the surface, this is manifested by a moving and shaking of the ground, and can be massively damaging to poorly built structures. The most powerful earthquakes can destroy even the best built of structures. In addition, they can trigger secondary disasters, such as tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Earthquakes occur along fault line, and are unpredictable. They are capable of killing hundreds of thousands of people, such as in the 1976 Tangshan and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakes.
A tsunami ("harbor wave" in Japanese) is caused by seismic disturbances in the ocean. A common misconception is that tsunamis are simply very large waves, but this is incorrect. Instead, when one has reached land, it gives the appearance that the sea level has risen very rapidly. Tsunamis can flood areas and cause widespread devastation, often killing thousands of people. Tsunamis are commonly called tidal waves, a title discouraged by professional oceanographers because tsunamis are not related to ocean tides in any way.
Major solar flare
A solar flare is a violent explosion in the Sun's atmosphere with an energy equivalent to tens of millions of hydrogen bombs. Solar flares take place in the solar corona and chromosphere, heating the gas to tens of millions of kelvins and accelerating electrons, protons and heavier ions to near the speed of light. They produce electromagnetic radiation across the spectrum at all wavelengths from long-wave radio signals to the shortest wavelength gamma rays. Solar flare emissions are a danger to orbiting satellites, manned space missions, communications systems, and power grid systems.
Solar flares are common and there are no record of an event that would put life on earth in any considerate danger, that is not to say that they are innocuous. Human societies dependence on electricity, electronic devices and satellites have also made us more vulnerable to a social order collapse due to the disabling effect a strong solar flare would have in the infrastructure we now depend for day-to-day life.
One of the best know effect of solar flares is on the power supply networks, for instance Canada and Finland have added protective devices to their high voltage transformers just for that eventuality. It should be something that a national government should act upon since a nations energy infrastructure is of national security importance, even if in most nations energy is a private enterprise.
There is also a early warning system in place due to the effect solar flares have on satellites, so a major event should be public knowledge before it hits. In personal terms having taken the general steps discussed on Part 1 will suffice, unless the even is so great that the recovery time will erode the fabric of society.
EMP events can occur only result of a EMP weapon discharge.
As with many other catastrophic events, an EMP attack or incident has been also the subject of books and other media, even video games. The computer-animated American science fiction television TV series from 2007 Afterworld covers Russell Shoemaker, the lead character, history across a devastated land, in the portrayed EMP event has not only cause all alternative current utilities to ceased function but has "disintegrated" a large part of the population. It covers interesting subjects like how humanity uses myths to explain away the unknown and permit to build order over a chaotic reality.
The word today seems to be evolving beyond nuclear power and nuclear weapons, due to some hard realizations based on experiencing extreme destruction, pollution and the unreliability of the systems especially facing unexpected realities. Something has been learned and we have gone far beyond the bad propaganda from the pre-cold war age into the 21 century.
Nuclear radiation evokes fear and uncertainty, probably the more worrying characteristic is that it is unseen, carried by air and more damaging than virus since the effects can take extremely long time to dissipate and the effects to be noticed, if not in the immediate form of a radiation burn or severe poisoning.
This section will try to cover this subject by providing a short introduction to this important topic and address some of the confusion and even misinformation regarding radiation and radiation poisoning.
Radiation is a physical property of some natural occurring elements. Since matter is, simply put, made up of protons, electrons and neutrons.
The type of element is determined by the number of protons as the number of protons in for any element is fixed, electrons and neutrons vary within some limits. The number neutrons affects the stability of the atom, there is an optimal range of numbers of neutrons needed to keep the atom stable. When you have 2 atoms of the same element but with different number of neutrons they constitute an isotope of that element. If one of the atoms is unstable it then leads to alpha, beta-, beta+ or gamma decay.
One of the more problematic aspects of the lack of public information about radiation effects is the establishing of safety limits and of full disclosure of the dangers. This includes being transparent about contaminated sites, professions and the nuclear economy.
The rem is the most common unit of measure used to gauge radiation damage to human tissue. For instance the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends evacuation from locations were radiation dose exceeds .1 rem per year. With an exposure of 100 rem or more one will get radiation illness (with similar effects to cancer patients that get radiation treatment, loss of hair, nausea and weakness). A dose of 250 to 350 rem will become life-threatening, if untreated chances of dying are approximately 50%.
Fission is a reaction commonly created in nuclear power stations where unstable isotopes of an element are created from splitting of atoms. Creating unstable isotopes will eventually decay the various decay processes.
Radioactive decay As we have seen there are several types of radioactive decay, each decay will emit:
- alpha decay, means that the unstable atom emits a helium nuclei (composed of 2 neutrons and 2 protons) as it decays.
- beta- decay, occurs for isotopes with an excess of neutrons, in seeking stability neutrons are converted into protons (thereby changing the element) this generates a releasing of electrons and other elementary particles, like neutrinos.
- beta+ decay, may occur, if the atom has enough energy to overcome the mass difference between an proton and a neutron and when the atom nucleus has too few neutrons to remain stable, forcing a conversion of a proton into a neutron and a positron (negative charged electron) that will emit a neutrino.
- gamma decay, is generally a result of a alpha or a beta decay. If the resulting atom is in an excited state, it can radiate a high energy photon to lose some of the excess energy.
Except from a massive solar flare or a pulsar ejection hitting the Earth most other natural ways of getting irradiated beyond normal ranges can only occur due to human action or some controlled activity or repeated exposure. The most probable deadly nuclear events are a nuclear war, terrorist attack, a nuclear facility accident or exposure to nuclear waste. In 2015 Spencer Wheatley and Didier Sornette at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Benjamin Sovacool at Aarhus University in Denmark, having reportedly compiled the most comprehensive list of nuclear accidents until then calculate the chances of future accidents to be 50/50.
War is conflict, between relatively large groups of people, which involves physical force inflicted by the use of weapons. Warfare has destroyed entire cultures, countries, economies and inflicted great suffering on humanity. Other terms for war can include armed conflict, hostilities, and police action. Acts of war are normally excluded from insurance contracts and disaster planning. Most wars are caused when two political leaders have conflicts with each other's views. Civilians normally have no input on whether a war should be started.
Terrorism is a controversial term with multiple definitions. One definition means a violent action targeting civilians exclusively. Another definition is the use or threatened use of violence for the purpose of creating fear in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological goal. Under the second definition, the targets of terrorist acts can be anyone, including civilians, government officials, military personnel, or people serving the interests of governments.
Impact events are caused by the collision of large meteoroids, asteroids or comets (generically: bolides) with Earth and may sometimes be followed by mass extinctions of life. The magnitude of the disaster is inversely proportional to its rate of occurrence, because small impactors are much more numerous than large ones.
This type of event is portrayed in many movies, TV shows and literary works. The TV series of 1999, from the UK, The Last Train, follows the survival of a mixed group of train passengers who have accidentally been cryogenically frozen. It covers items like famine due to ash cover (drop of temperature) and acid rain.
A gama-ray burst is a blast of gama radiation, the best known and common generators of such events are pulsars but any passing star cluster within a few thousand light years of Earth could generate a strong enough burst that would result in mass extinction of life on Earth. In fact it is theorized by a team from the University of Kansas in Lawrence led by Adrian Melott in 2003, that such an event may indeed have occurred 440 million years ago, even if so far no proof has been found, but little would be left to identify such event.
In star clusters, gama-ray bursts are generated when a single star explodes or two or more stellar corpses merge. In 2003, a team led by Adrian Melott of the suggested that a gamma-ray burst within a few thousand light years of Earth triggered a mass extinction 440 million years ago. But proof has been elusive. Because these bursts occur when , there is little left to identify the culprit.
A galactic gama-ray superwave can also be a possibility from a massive supernova. Recent discoveries made by Fermi Gamma Ray telescope increases the chance of Earth being hit in what is a recurrent phenomena.
According to Wilfried Domainko of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany (arxiv.org/abs/1112.1792), in globular clusters, massive swarm of active and dead start, the probability based on the number of star clusters in the Milky Way and the rate of gamma-ray bursts in them, that an deadly game-ray busts event will strike Earth is at least once in the past billion years.
The chance that a pulsar will cause damage to the earth is very remote but not inexistent, in fact it is almost a certainty that some pulsars will be targeting the earth from time to time, but because they are so distant little or no impact is felt.
Events sorted chronologically
This section of the book lists disastrous events until the last century. We have intentionally not listed more recent events because they may be still under active dispute, badly attributed, too painful and in general still open to distinct interpretation and requiring further analysis.
- 1985 Nevado del Ruiz Lahar disaster - The 'Volcán del Ruiz', had been for more than a century a dormant giant, which travelers in the Bogotá-Cali flights had the pleasure to observe, covered with a large snow cap.
- With 5,389 m (17,780 ft), Nevado del Ruiz is the highest of the Colombian volcanoes in the Central Range of the Colombian Andes.
- Although this volcano had caused lahars in 1595 and 1845, causing hundreds of deaths, the rich valley of Armero under the peak, was excellent agricultural land. The town of Armero grew for more than a century, without anyone remembering the old disasters.
- Late in 1984, geologists began to notice small earthquakes and steam eruptions in the volcano. Although a network of monitoring devices was setup on the summit of the volcano, nothing would predict the terrible events that followed a year later.
- In November 1985 the smoke from the summit of Nevado del Ruiz, was plainly visible, but both authorities and scientists alike didn't believe these were the preliminaries of a plynian pyroclastic eruption.
- Despite the warnings local authorities in Armero, and state officials keep saying no eruption would follow, although a risk map was in place.
- On the night of November 13, 1985, at around 3:00 pm there was an explosion and ashes fell over the region, but even then local authorities and priests in Armero asked the people to remain calm in their houses. However at 9:30 pm. the volcano, covered with storm clouds, erupted with rock ejection and pyroclastic discharges which melted the snow cap. Melted water and pyroclastic ashes and rocks mixed and produced a series of lahars, mud and rock slides along the rivers.
- Just half an hour short of midnight on November 13, 1985 a massive Lahar caused by the eruption of the volcano, ran down the Lagunillas river, in central Colombia, and jumped in a 200 high wave of rocks, mud and debris over the town of Armero, 28,000 inhabitants. In the next 10 minutes close to 80% of Armero was destroyed. The death toll of both the lahar that hit Armero and other lahars was estimated at 21,000 deaths.
- 1932 - Ukraine - Black Famine - A Man-Made Famine raged through Ukraine, the ethnic-Ukrainian region of northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River region in 1932-33. Between 7 to 10 million people, mainly Ukrainians, starved to death.
- Planned by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the main goal of this artificial famine was to break the spirit of the Ukrainian peasant farmer and to force them into collectivization. In 1932, the Soviets increased the grain procurement quota for Ukraine by 44%. Soviet law was quite clear - no grain could be given to feed the peasants until the quota was met, aware that this extraordinary high quota would result in a grain shortage leaving Ukrainian peasant unable to feed themselves.
- When some peasants attempted to hide grain from the Soviet Government, Communist party officials with the aid of military troops and NKVD secret police units moved into the area. To insure Ukrainian peasants could not travel in search of food, an internal passport system was implemented to restrict movements.
- While Ukrainians were starving, Ukrainian grain was collected and stored in grain elevators that were guarded by military units & NKVD secret police units.
- 1913 - Great Lakes, USA & Canada - Great Lakes storm
- 1912 - Atlantic Ocean - Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic a Olympic-class passenger liner owned by the White Star Line and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. On the night of 14 April 1912, during her maiden voyage, Titanic struck an iceberg at a spot around four hundred miles south of Newfoundland, and sank two hours and forty minutes later in early 15 April 1912. There was no long gash in the ship as expected from the iceberg collision but many tiny gashes that led to the flood of the water. Her fireman compared the sound of the impact to "the tearing of calico, nothing more." However, the collision was fatal and the icy water soon poured through the ship. It became obvious that many would not find safety in a lifeboat. Each passenger was issued a life jacket but life expectancy would be short when exposed to water four degrees below freezing. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people, ranking it as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most infamous. The Titanic used some of the most advanced technology available. It was on of the most luxurious and largest steamship at the time and was popularly believed to be “unsinkable” - indeed, in a 1910 White Star Line brochure advertising the Titanic, claiming that it was "designed to be unsinkable". It was a great shock to many that despite the advanced technology and experienced crew, the Titanic still sank with a great loss of life. The media frenzy about Titanic's famous victims, the legends about what happened on board the ship, the resulting changes to maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985 by an American and French team, led by Robert Ballard have made Titanic persistently famous in the years since.
- 1904 - New York City, USA - General Slocum disaster - The General Slocum was a steamship launched in 1891. It caught fire and burned to the water line in New York's East River on June 15, 1904. Over 1,000 people died in the tragedy, making it New York City's worst loss-of-life disaster until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The Captain, William Van Schaick, and the rest of the crew suffered no fatalities, although the Captain lost sight in one eye due to the fire. There were many acts of heroism among the passengers, witnesses, and emergency personnel.
- 1900 - Texas, USA - Galveston Hurricane
- 1755 Lisbon, Portugal earthquake - Took place on November 1, 1755, at 9:20 in the morning. It was one of the most destructive and deadly earthquakes in history, killing well over 70,000 people. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire, resulting in the near total destruction of Lisbon.
- The earthquake accentuated political tensions in Portugal and profoundly disrupted the country's 18th century colonial ambitions. The event was widely discussed by European Enlightenment philosophers, and inspired major developments in theodicy and in the philosophy of the sublime. The first to be studied scientifically for its effects over a large area, the quake signaled the birth of modern seismology. Geologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake approached magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 km west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent.
- The geological causes of this earthquake and the seismic activity in the region continue to be discussed and debated by contemporary scientists. Some geologists have suggested that the earthquake may indicate the early development of an Atlantic subduction zone, and the beginning of the closure of the Atlantic ocean.
- Bubonic Plague The black death occurred in almost all of Europe, killing one third of the population. It was caused by a disease carried by fleas (and spread by rats) and transmitted to humans
- 79 Destruction of Pompeii & Herculaneum by eruption of Mount Vesuvius