LES ANNALES DES MINES
FOR OUR ENGLISH-SPEAKING READERS
lessons from the past
Following a catastrophe, feedback means studying the scope and nature of organizational shortcomings and breakdowns — their causes and consequences as well as the procedures and means for issuing warnings, launching rescue operations and repairing damage. This should be done by taking into account how persons at the center of events see things and react. To maintain and, if need be, restore confidence in organizations, the situations faced by their personnel must be better understood.
Storms in France
No exhaustive inventory reaching back several centuries has been made of storms in France. Since 1999, Météo-France, the French weather bureau, has tried to make up for this by developing a special data base (Base de Données d’Événements Marquants, BDEM). This project, still in-house, will include documents about historical weather events. The number of episodes of strong winds varies widely from one year to another (7 in 1968, but 26 in 1962), as does the number of violent storms (0 in 1989, 1993 and 1998, but 5 in 1965). Current studies do not provide evidence of significant long-term trends over the past 50 years.
Climate change and the probability of storms in the North Atlantic
For some people, the "1999 tempests" provided us with a forewarning of major climate changes caused by the continued, inordinate use of fossil fuels. Even though global warming has been confirmed, current observations do not enable us to foresee a long-term trend toward an increasing probability of storms in France or Europe. Even though the climate will likely become warmer, there is, at present, no agreement about what the future holds — about the frequency or intensity of coming storms.
For a global approach to the risks related to climate change
Jean Pierre Doumenge
Developed societies in the temperate zone are worrying, rightly so, about the disasters and sudden anomalies in the climate that might occur there. The Lothar and Martin storms, which wrought havoc in France at the end of 1999, prove how well-founded such worries are, even though risks of this sort are centuries old — but this order of magnitude in the occurrence of such events does not reflect reality. After all, such events might reoccur in five, ten, twenty, thirty… years.
The 1999 storms and emergencies: What have we learned?
For Électricité de France (ÉdF),
managing catastrophes like the one following the storms that hit France
at the end of December 1999 does not just consist of repairing installations
and putting lines back in operation. The electricity company also had to
race against the clock in order to save human lives. It had to establish
channels for communicating with the public. In the end, it must, for prevention
purposes, draw the lessons from its experiences so as to review existing
procedures and standards, and improve the diffusion of knowledge.
Security of the French electric system after the 1999 storms
Given the costs of damages to the power grid during the storms of 26 and 28 December 1999, and for reasons related to ÉdF’s image as a "public service", it was necessary to carefully reexamine the level of security of various parts of the system in coping with events of an unprecedented violence and scope. The state has the responsibility of setting penalties (rate rebates) in the case of a prolonged blackout and the procedures for applying them. But it must also specify the order of magnitude and length of time for the program that it wants implemented to deal with such emergencies. It can do this by laying down general guidelines for investments in each major part of the electricity grid.
How communes in the Île-de-France Region coped with the 26 December 1999 storm
A questionnaire about perceptions of the catastrophe and
damages wrought by the storm of 26 December 1999 was sent to all communes
in the Île-de-France Region. Although no commune replied that it
had been spared, areas in the western and southern parts of the region
felt they had been hardest hit. The damage has been slow repaired: by 1
January 2001, less than a third of the communes felt that damages (apart
from forests) had been fully repaired. Communes, in particular the rural
villages where the storm has had a terrible impact on the budgets of local
authorities, are still trying to manage the sequels.
The responsibility of mayors in coping with natural risks
Besides their traditional responsibilities of representing their communes, mayors now have to, like other decision-makers in modern societies, reckon with the fact that their acts might, nowadays, now entail sanctions, even under penal law. The search is on for a guilty party, even in natural events. The notion of fault is expanding; and mayors must have protection to the rear and to the front, even when a storm wind has raised the problems to be handled.
How public authorities in Charente-Maritime organized to cope with the 27 December 1999 storm
On the evening of 27 December 1999, at the Prefecture in Charente-Maritime Department, each passing minute bore more testimony to a catastrophe that would kill 16 people and injure 120. The area was declared a disaster zone on 29 December. To cope with the situation in the department, central authorities relied on a total of 78.296 persons per day, and spent more than 400 million francs to help farmers, communes, small business, shell-fisheries, lumbering companies, etc. This mobilization was exceptionally important and fast: the state of emergency (the ORSEC plan) was lifted on 12 February 2000.
Local public concessions for distributing electricity and risk-management
As "authorities organizing the public distribution of electricity", communes and groups of communes are directly involved in limiting the risks that weather changes cause to their distribution grids. In the context of opening the electricity supply up to the market, these local concessions, which have proven their ability to cope, must be provided with all the means needed for lastingly guaranteeing the quality of grids and the continuity of the public service of distributing electricity.
Undistributed energy, a concept for decision-making about the management of power grids
To manage a big electricity grid on a country-wide scale, the tools have to exist for making decisions that lead to a fair compromise between the cost of electricity and the effects on consumers when supply does not satisfy demand. From a macroeconomic approach, the concept of "undistributed energy" has proved effective whenever ÉdF has had to work out programs for improving, on a tight budget, the quality of the electricity supply.
The importance of the "quality of service" in supplying electricity
In contrast with the technician’s approach to examining
the conditions for ensuring a continuous flow of electricity, another approach
lies open: organize relations between suppliers and customers so as to
focus on the delivered product and not just on the means used. This quality-of-service
approach defines the rules of the game that will orient behaviors toward
the pursuit of what is deemed a socially desirable objective.
The 1999 storms, a lesson for insurers and the insured
Naturally, insurance can be taken out against storms. But to provide surer protection to the insured when violent storms hit, law-makers, after making the "storm clause" obligatory in fire insurance contracts in 1990, extended it in 2000 to all contracts covering damaged goods. Unlike for other events considered as natural catastrophes, setting the conditions and premiums in such contracts is left up to the market. The insured must, therefore, carefully examine the wording in contracts.
Major climate risks: How to indemnify?
Storms, heavy rains, flooding… such climate-related events have been occurring more frequently in recent years. Given these major risks, it is necessary, but tricky, to inquire into the effectiveness of the means for providing compensation and into the actual costs of such transfers. Members of AMRAE (Association pour le Management des Risques et des Assurances de l’Entreprise) tried to do just that during a meeting on 31 January 2002 in Lille. In the search to reduce the exposure of companies to such risks, they must now cope with the tougher conditions for taking out insurance. They are looking for creative solutions.
The SNCF and the December 1999 storms
No accidents, no casualties. Five days to put two-thirds of the French rail system back on the tracks. Freight traffic was restored to more than 80% by 30 December. Passenger service was nearly normal by the 31st: six millions passengers during the holiday season reached their destinations. But television news broadcasts only showed discontented customers in the stations. The SNCF’s personnel, who worked day and night to cope with the storms, want to know: "Why did the media adopt such an attitude even as we were managing to handle all passengers and reestablish train traffic in record time?"
How Civil Defense coped with the emergency
The damage wrought by stormy weather in December 1999 proved the need for a national reserve of rescue supplies and equipment. The task force for coping with catastrophes in the Direction de la Défense and de la Sécurité Civiles seems like the right structure for coordinating the various parties involved in managing major catastrophes. The scope and intensity of the 1999 events showed that the system can be improved so as to reduce to a minimum the delay for becoming operational.
Storms and forests: Catastrophes or opportunities?
The 1999 storms have deeply affected the forestry — nothing
will remain the same. From the hardest hit areas, shortfalls in production
are expected in the coming years, and expected to last. Ransacked landscapes
will need time before becoming beautiful again. But by making us think
about the major issues in forestry and forest management, the current crisis
also provides an opportunity for undertaking serious reforms.