Effective disaster management can go a long way in mitigating the damage caused by natural catastrophes, thereby increasing plant safety.
Today, natural disasters are on the rise around the world, both in terms of their magnitude and their frequency. Unfortunately, the same holds true for India as well. Over the past decade, the number of natural and manmade disasters has increased significantly. The global data on reported disasters from 1999–2003 indicates that there were 707 disasters every year during this period, reflecting an increase of about 60 percent over the previous years.
These natural disasters have domino effect on industrial facilities such as hazardous chemicals depots, gas and oil inventories, port terminals, power plants, transportation hubs for dangerous materials, and can trigger technology malfunctions resulting in the release of hazardous materials into the surrounding environment. The consequences of these ‘combination accidents’ are severe, causing immense damage to the public and the environment as a whole.
In the Indian context, several instances of combination accidents have been witnessed. Some of these include the Gujarat cyclone in 1998 that affected industrial heart of Gujarat, the 1999 super cyclone that affected major industries in Orissa’s coastal belt and the major earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat, in the year 2001 that damaged the ports and major industries. In addition to these, India has also borne the brunt of the violent Tsunami waves that affected approximately 2,260 km of the country’s coast in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, barely six years ago.
Floods Can Cause Disruptions
Fifty-nine percent of the land mass is susceptible to seismic hazard; five percent of the total geographical area is prone to floods and eight percent of the total landmass is prone to cyclones. The climatic changes witnessed in recent years contributed their own share of damages, triggering a spate of technological accidents such as an increase in the incidence of flooding due to changes in rainfall pattern and carrying capacities of rivers; and forest fires. Flooding causes severe disruptions in the environment by triggering the release of chemicals stored above the ground level and of toxic wastes from waste treatment plants, which, in turn, contaminate drinking water sources. Floods can also cause disruptions in the operations of sewage treatment facilities, and can trigger fires/explosions due to the loss of process control. Further, these disruptions can trigger reactions between hazardous and pyrophoric chemicals and flood water, electrical system mishaps and so on. In view of the increased probability of natural disasters triggering chemical disasters, as a conservative approach, it has become necessary to consider the same as the ‘worst-case scenario’ while preparing the disaster management plan for a particular plant site. This paper highlights the case study of a flood incident at a chemical plant located in the Surat-Hazira Industrial Belt in Gujarat, and the application of the disaster risk management plan. The plant falls under the purview of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The safety issues that surfaced from the flood incident were reviewed in detail by AERB, and certain recommendations were made to improve the emergency response plan due to such incidents. The paper also highlights the significance of risk assessment techniques in the design stage, considering both natural and human–induced postulating events that may trigger such a disaster.
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