Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I can't pronounce it, either, but I don't need to speak Icelandic to take its lessons.
This sub-Arctic volcano began trembling its warnings in mid-2009, erupting briefly a month ago before quieting until April 14th, when it unleashed a plume of ash that's still disrupting air travel worldwide.

We know all that, of course. What's worth watching are the effects of this natural phenomenon -- or, to be more accurate, our responses to its effects.

There's volcanic activity across the globe and eruptions are inevitable. We're familiar with the behavior of jet streams and surface winds. It's common knowledge that aircraft must avoid flying through volcanic ash, lest engines seize and planes crash.

With only that basic information, then, we can predict that when a volcano erupts -- whether it's in Iceland, Chile, the Philippines or Wyoming -- its effects can spread well beyond the surrounding area and air travel could take a hit. Contingency plans are in order. The question is, where are those plans now?

Judging by the last seven days, it looks like commercial carriers were caught flat-footed. And since volcanoes don't play favorites, I find myself wondering how air forces based in Europe planned for this -- thousands of military aircraft are grounded, too.

I haven't heard that question asked, much less answered.

Eyjafjallajökull will keep erupting as long as it wants to -- nothing can be done about that. While the world watches the scenario play out, however, individuals can go to school on a matter having little to do with volcanology.

There's truly no excuse for airlines treating Eyjafjallajökull like a passing thunderstorm. And if they have no plan for dealing with hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded because a volcano is erupting in Iceland, it's reasonable to predict that they haven't planned for the effects of war, unrest, fuel shortages or much else.

That's disturbing, sure, but let's bring the lessons close to home.

All disasters ultimately are local, even personal. It's up to each of us to identify the threats, predict disruptions and prepare to survive in their wake.

As important as it is to catalog threats, causes matter less than our ability to execute individual plans. We can't rely on government, commercial interests, military or law enforcement to be our salvation -- or, for that matter, our backstop. If we're without water, a reliable food supply, shelter or the ability to travel, we must presume that we'll be on our own.

Waiting 'til after the SHTF to spot threats and hatch plans, like the airlines are doing, is a recipe for failure. Prepare now -- no excuses.