Explosions at chemical plant following Hurricane Harvey highlight need to step up prevention and preparedness for extreme weather-related industrial accidents

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United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

A series of explosions at a chemical plant in Texas following severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey highlight the risk of extreme weather-related industrial accidents and the urgent need to strengthen efforts for prevention and preparedness.

The explosions, which were caused by the loss of refrigeration to a warehouse storing highly volatile and extremely flammable chemicals, are an example of a Natural-hazard triggered technological accident, or “NATECH”.

The increasing frequency and severity of climate change-related extreme weather events underlines the vital importance of reinforcing measures worldwide to prevent future accidents, and ensuring better preparedness to respond in a safe and timely manner should they occur.

In terms of prevention, this means identifying risks for different accident scenarios, facilitating their evaluation and integration into the procedures for the safe management of industrial plants, and ensuring appropriate land-use planning. It is also crucial to enhance preparedness through emergency exercises and effective contingency plans – both on- and off-site – with full cooperation between industry and public authorities, including across national borders.

This most recent example could inspire the critical evaluation and reassessment of the location of industrial facilities in areas at risk from extreme weather events such as floods and other disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis.

The need to further improve prevention and preparedness is in line with the priorities set out in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by UN Member States in March 2015. An important feature of this is strengthening disaster risk governance at the national and transboundary levels.

This is also the focus of ongoing cooperation between OECD, UNECE and other partners, to strengthen knowledge and capacity on prevention and preparedness for NATECH incidents.

UNECE is committed to working with all countries and stakeholders to prevent and prepare for industrial accidents, including those caused by natural disasters, through its Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents.

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