It’s almost a year since the volcanic ash from the Icelandic volcanoes caused mayhem for air travel.
Many voices at the time were asking “Why could we not have predicted this?”.
This sentiment is echoed in a new report from the UK’s Commons Science and Technology Committee (CSTC), which described the crisis – with remarkable understatement – as an example of poor risk assessment.
Hindsight is of course a marvellous thing, but it appears the problem is that government officials were just not talking to the right people.
The airline industry may have been surprised but the volcanologists had known this was likely to happen for some time.
This lack of communication is not confined to this issue. Members of the CSTC point out that “neither the government’s chief scientific adviser nor his team of chief scientists, were involved in evaluating risks to the nation”.
So it appears that in the UK, the process of national risk assessment which looks at scenarios such as pandemics, cyber attacks and severe weather goes on without much input from scientists.
It is difficult to believe this is true and points to a serious lack of scientific awareness within the UK government. Let’s hope this report and the CSTC can make a difference and bring science to the heart of risk assessment.