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Community Champion

Beirut explosion

In terms of things getting worse during a catastrophe, allow me to present Beirut, Lebanon. Already facing a disastrous financial crisis and endemic corruption when the pandemic hit, they also had their port facilities, and much of the surrounding area, levelled by an explosion. In video of the event, you can actually see the shock wave, which is not often visible outside of nuclear explosions. Apartments three kilometres from the blast site had doors and furniture inside overturned and broken. Residences ten kilometres from the epicentre had windows broken. The sound of the blast was heard 200 kilometres away, in at least two other countries. The explosion registered on seismographs, at 3.3 on the Richter scale.

 

The full story of the explosion is probably not yet known. Initially, the government reported that stored fireworks had exploded. Later reports noted that enormous quantities of ammonium nitrate were stored in the area, possibly seized six years earlier, possibly just accumulating over six years. Ammonium nitrate is widely used as a fertilizer, but it is also the AN in the improvised explosive known as ANFO, which is simply Ammonium Nitrate (as the oxidizing agent) mixed with Fuel Oil (as the combustible material). Since ammonium nitrate is the oxidizing agent, it can be mixed with any fuel or combustible material, such as oil, flour, or simply any dust that might accumulate over six years, in order to form an explosive. Apparently there are also reports that welding was going on in the area. As we know from physical security (chapter 5 in my latest book), for a fire you need oxygen or an oxidizing agent, fuel or combustible material, and a source of heat or ignition. Risk management (chapter 1) tells us that when you have fuel and an oxidizing agent, adding a heat source without adding layers of preventive controls (chapter 2) is just begging for trouble.


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