Natural Hazards Triggering Technical Accidents (Natech)

Lightning and technical installationClick to enlarge
Technical installations must be protected from natural hazards such as lightning or storms.
Source: Siegfried Layda/Getty Images

Examples like the earthquake and tsunamis 2011 in Japan and the devastating hurricane Harvey 2017 in the USA, make aware that natural hazards not just cause destruction of private houses but also led to accidents at installations containing hazardous substances. They can cause releases of hazardous substances, fire, and explosions endangering people and significantly pollute the environment.

Risks of “Natural Hazard Triggered Technical Accidents” (Natechs) Require a Special Natech Risk Management

The Risk Management of “Natural Hazard Triggered Technical Accidents” (Natechs) differs from other “chemical accidents”. Natech risks have certain properties that set them apart from other chemical accident risks. Some of them may be:

  1. The triggering, propagation, and consequences of Natechs may not be covered by “conventional” chemical accident scenarios, used for design and layout of facilities where hazardous substances are or may be present.
  2. Natech risk management requires the involvement of experts for natural hazards like meteorologists, hydrologists, geologists and in many cases of hydraulic or civil engineers; the knowledge of these experts must be integrated in the risk management for “chemical” facilities which requires an intensive cooperation with experts for safety of installations.
  3. Not extreme natural hazards also have the potential to cause Natechs.
  4. Climate Change can change frequency and intensity of natural hazards. And Climate Change can cause some natural hazards to occur at locations where they have never been observed before. Also new hazards, such as the rise of sea level, are becoming increasingly important. In summary, there will be developments that can go beyond the traditional design of installations where hazardous substances are or may be present.
  5. Natural hazards can affect several installations at the same time and / or they can cause a series of Natechs.
  6. Natural Hazards can trigger cascading events, e.g. an earthquake may cause a Tsunami and one Natech may trigger another one.
  7. In case of natural disasters, the vulnerability of the population will be increased; a Natech in these situations will have more severe consequences then an equivalent chemical accident at other times. 
  8. During natural hazards / natural disasters, emergency responders may be engaged in mitigating the consequences for the population, so their availability and capability for mitigating triggered chemical accidents can be limited. 

Natech Risk Management may thus require measures usually not covered by chemical accident management. 

Climate projections show that the frequency and in some cases the intensity of natural hazards will increase in the years and decades to come. Consequently, the risk of Natechs will increase as well. 

Therefore Natechs should receive more attention by policy makers, regulators, facility operators, authorities, and scientists. There is a need for including explicitly Natech risks into chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response programs.

The International Natech Risk Management Project

Being aware of the need for a special Natech Risk Management the Working Group on Chemical Accidents (WGCA) of the OECD started in 2009 a project on this subject which was led by Germany and supported by a lot of OECD member countries, the EC Joint Research Center, the UN Environment and OCHA Joint Unit, and the secretariat of the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accident. This project includes two phases, the EU /OECD-Natech-I-Project from 2009 to 2015 and the UN / OECD-Natech-II-Project from 2015 to 2019.

The Natech-I-Project From 2009 To 2015

A first Workshop on Natech Risk Management was organized in 2012 at Dresden with support by the Steering Group formed for this project. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission contributed a lot by a survey on Natech Risk Management (published for the EU Member Countries). The results from this survey, an elaborated discussion document and the presentations at the Workshop (See Workshop Proceedings) gave the basis for drafting recommendations on Good Practice in Natech Risk Management (see Final Report). These recommendations on Natech Risk Management were reviewed, new drafted, discussed by the WGCA and agreed to give the Second Addendum to the OECD Guiding Principles on Chemical Accident Prevention, Preparedness and Response

The Natech-II-Project From 2015 To 2019

At the suggestion of the UN Environment and UN OCHA Joint Unit (JEU), the WGCA decided in 2015 to continue the Natech project. The objectives of the second UN / OECD Natech Project were to:

  1. support the implementation of the recommendations from the first Natech project resulting in the Natech Addendum,
  2. identify and disseminate examples of good practices on Natech risk management,
  3. make authorities and other key stakeholders aware of how advanced Natech risk management can contribute to the objectives of the Sendai Framework on disaster risk reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals, and
  4. help fill the gaps identified in the first OECD Natech project. 

A second survey on Natech Risk Management was made in 2017. This survey included new questions and some from the first survey. The later allowed to measure whether countries may have made progress in Natech Risk Management. In fact several answering persons seamed to look more skeptical on the state of Natech Risk Management in their countries.

As second Workshop on Natech Risk Management was organized in 2018 at Potsdam, Germany. The Workshop included a presentation of the results of the survey, a presentation of a discussion document, and six session on different aspects of Natech Risk Management. The conclusions from the workshop were reported to the WGCA in 2018.

There are four UBA Reports basing on the results of the second workshop and the second UN / OECD Natech Risk Management project:

A) Natech Risk Management: Contributions to the UN / OECD Natech Project, including

  • The final evaluation of the results of the survey by the steering group;
  • A description of the sessions and the presentations made at the UN / OECD Natech-II-Workshop;
  • A description of the record of good practice examples in Natech risk management;
  • The recommendations drafted at the workshop.

B) Klimawandel und Anlagensicherheit: Empfehlungen aus dem UN / OECD Natech Projekt (Climate Change And Safety of Installations: Recommendation from the UN / OECD Natech Project, in German)

C) Klimawandel und Anlagensicherheit: Empfehlungen aus dem UN / OECD Natech Projekt (Kurzfassung)

D) Climate Change And Safety of Installations: Recommendation from the UN / OECD Natech Project (Short Version)

In addition there is an OECD Report on the results of the second UN / OECD Natech Projekt “Natech Risk Management: 2017 – 2020 Project Results