Last week, I went to the grocery store, which became my new everyday hazard. Before that time, my biggest risks were going out to work in avalanche terrain. I joked with my wife that I was forecasting the hazard to be MODERATE with the problem, being COVID-19. My world was being flipped upside down and I needed to make sense of it. So I looked to the only thing that stays consistent in my winter life… going through the process of creating an Operational Hazard and Risk Forecast. At the time, the only thing being talked about was social distancing (keeping 6’ spacing from those who don’t live in the same household). Therefore, it was possible to trigger a slide (contract COVID-19), but unlikely for it to naturally take you out, and the problem could be found in areas of high traffic (heightened awareness on specific terrain features).
Our national avalanche center (Avalanche.org) has been replaced with a daily viewing of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Coronavirus: COVID-19 page. The local “avalanche” bulletin depends on what state you reside in… for us here in Idaho, we can navigate to the State of Idaho’s webpage designed to provide information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The “forecasts” aren’t as sexy as the usual avalanche bulletins that we are used to reading each morning. Instead, they consist of daily briefings of new orders that residents need to follow in order to lower the likelihood of spreading the virus across the state.
Are we in a Deep Slab instability right now, low likelihood of trigger, but large consequence if you find that sweet spot. It’s a little hard to compare the release of an avalanche to the spread of a virus. In the scale of time, a virus moves more like the creep in the snowpack than the collapse and release of a weak layer. When this problem is approached with the Strategic Mindset, we are all Stepping Back as more and more evidence is showing community spread. Unessential businesses are closing their doors and we’re closing off terrain where our margins of safety are unnecessarily being compromised. It is fearful that one day it will come to being Entrenched in a well established problem that requires even stricter management practices of a full lockdown scenario.
So how do we gauge the trend and severity that we are currently faced? As I was compiling this information, I came across the CDC Pandemic Severity Assessment Framework (PSAF). That’s right, there is already a way to assess this hazard. But I thought it would bring some excitement to my everyday life of isolation to relate this whole pandemic to the avalanche world. I attempted to create some new language on how to analyze this problem with the help of the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard.
Redesigning the Sensitivity to Trigger table presented the most challenges. I couldn’t come up with a comparison to “natural releases or cornice triggers.” Being that the COVID-19 virus is transferred via humans, it seems unlikely for there to be a natural trigger, besides the initial transmission by a bat? Human triggers seemed to be the most likely way of transfering the virus. I replaced the “Explosive Triggers” with Isolation Orders. Previously this field started out with the largest explosives used to attempt to trigger avalanches that were more stubborn, but in this situation it seems necessary to reverse that process. Instead, I changed the field to act as the amount of restrictions needed to combat the spread of the virus. I brought back the Very Touchy sensitivity, but used it as an additional level of severity (ballsy… I know…).
I would like to open up this discussion with fellow colleagues. This is a working document and look forward to adding adjustments to the terminology and language of how to manage this new hazard in the unforeseen future.
Statham, Grant, et al. “A Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard.” Natural Hazards, vol. 90, no. 2, Feb. 2017, pp. 663–691., doi:10.1007/s11069-017-3070-5.
Atkins, Roger. "Ying, Yang, and You." International Snow Science Workshop, Banff, 2014, https://arc.lib.montana.edu/snow-science/objects/ISSW14_paper_O9.02.pdf.
IdahoCOVID19. “Welcome.” Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), State of Idaho, 28 Mar. 2020, coronavirus.idaho.gov/.