15 Deadly Disasters Humanity Averted In The Nick Of Time

Throughout history, there have been moments where quick thinking, bravery, and sheer luck have averted catastrophic tragedies. From individual acts of heroism to collective decisions, these instances often go unnoticed but have had a profound impact on shaping the course of history. Let’s delve into some of the largest averted tragedies of all time, where disaster was narrowly avoided.

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#1 FDA Pharmacologist’s Stand Against Thalidomide

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“In the 1950s, FDA pharmacologist Frances Oldham Kelsey, despite heavy pressure from pharmaceutical companies, refused approval for the drug thalidomide, intended to relieve morning sickness in pregnant women, claiming the drug needed more testing. Thalidomide was approved in almost 50 other countries and was later found to be the cause of thousands of infant deformities and miscarriages. Didn’t quite save everyone, but certainly a large portion of a generation in the United States.”

Frances Oldham Kelsey’s courageous decision to withhold approval for thalidomide showcased the importance of rigorous drug testing and regulation. While the drug was authorized in numerous other countries, Kelsey’s insistence on further examination undoubtedly spared many lives in the United States. Her steadfastness serves as a poignant reminder of the critical role regulatory agencies play in safeguarding public health.

#2 Tilly Smith’s Tsunami Warnings

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Tilly Smith – a 10-year-old British girl who saved more than 100 people from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand because she had just studied the tsunamis in school. When the sea suddenly began to ‘boil’ then pulled away from the beach, leaving fish and boats stranded high, Tilly recognized that a tsunami was approaching. Her frantic warnings were heeded, and the beach was evacuated just moments before the waves hit the shore.”

Tilly Smith’s astute awareness of tsunami indicators and swift action exemplifies the profound impact of education and individual initiative in averting disaster. Her heroic efforts underscore the importance of disseminating knowledge about natural hazards, empowering individuals to recognize danger signs and take decisive measures to protect themselves and others.

#3 Stanislav Petrov’s Nuclear Restraint

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“Stanislav Petrov refusing to launch the Soviet nukes despite the incoming U.S ones.”

This incident refers to Stanislav Petrov’s pivotal decision in 1983 to disregard a false alarm indicating a U.S. nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Petrov’s choice to trust his instincts over automated systems averted potential nuclear retaliation, showcasing the importance of human judgment in crisis management. His bravery and discernment underscored the critical role individuals play in preventing catastrophic outcomes during periods of heightened nuclear tension. Petrov’s actions have since been celebrated as a testament to the power of individual agency in averting global disaster.

#4 Three Gorges Dam Crisis

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“Three Gorges Dam crosses the Yangtze River in China. In the summer of 2020, the rainy season was particularly heavy. Fears of shoddy construction lead to worry of it bursting and flooding everything downriver, including the cities of Wuhan and Nanjing. Millions could have died in a matter of hours. Engineers opened smaller dams to release pressure from the large one, flooding thousands of hectares of land. The dam did not burst, and it would have been a tragedy.”

The 2020 Three Gorges Dam crisis underscores the critical role of proactive risk management and engineering interventions in averting potential calamities. Despite apprehensions about the dam’s structural integrity, prompt measures to relieve pressure and mitigate flooding exemplify the importance of contingency planning and swift action in safeguarding lives and infrastructure during natural disasters.

#5 Y2K Bug Mitigation

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We all mock Y2K now. But at the time, it was genuinely a ticking time bomb. The work of engineers and computer scientists to prevent any major issues is really unknown.”

The successful mitigation of the Y2K bug highlights the significance of collaborative problem-solving and preemptive measures in preventing technological catastrophes. Despite initial apprehensions about the bug’s potential impact, concerted efforts by experts to identify and rectify coding vulnerabilities exemplify the effectiveness of proactive risk management strategies in mitigating systemic risks.

#6 Alan Turing’s Codebreaking Contribution

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“The invention of a machine by Alan Turing to crack German encrypted messages during WWII is estimated to have shortened the war by two years and saved 14 million lives.”

Alan Turing’s groundbreaking work in code breaking, particularly his development of the Bombe machine to decrypt German communications, played a pivotal role in Allied victory during World War II. By accelerating the deciphering of encrypted messages, Turing’s contributions significantly expedited strategic decision-making and military operations, ultimately sparing millions of lives and hastening the end of the conflict.

#7 Reston Virus Outbreak Averted

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“Not the largest by far, but the Reston virus outbreak in 1989 could have been really horrifying. The virus causes Ebola in non-human primates, but they didn’t know this until one of the handlers cut himself when performing a necropsy on a liver of one of the infected monkeys, and was put under surveillance during the incubation period and showed no symptoms.”

The Reston virus incident underscores the critical importance of swift and effective response measures in containing emerging infectious diseases. Prompt identification of the virus and implementation of stringent containment protocols minimized the risk of human transmission, highlighting the significance of robust surveillance systems and proactive public health interventions in averting epidemics.

#8 Flight 93 Heroism

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“Forever grateful to the passengers on Flight 93 who prevented the plane from being flown into another target on 9/11. The loss of the passengers remains an enormous, horrible tragedy itself, but we have no idea how many other lives were saved by their actions.”

The selfless bravery exhibited by the passengers of Flight 93 epitomizes the resilience and collective spirit of humanity in the face of adversity. By courageously confronting the hijackers and sacrificing their lives to prevent further tragedy, these individuals exemplified the highest ideals of heroism and solidarity, leaving an indelible legacy of courage and sacrifice in the annals of history.

#9 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster Response

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“If I remember correctly, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster could’ve been way, way, way worse. The operators stayed and did everything in their power, including ignoring an uninformed order from a government official, to mitigate the fallout. It definitely wasn’t a perfect response, but I think they saved a lot of lives.”

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011 posed a grave threat to public safety and environmental integrity, yet the response efforts undertaken by operators proved pivotal in limiting the extent of the catastrophe. Despite facing daunting challenges and conflicting directives, the unwavering dedication and professionalism of those involved in containment and mitigation operations undoubtedly contributed to minimizing the disaster’s impact and safeguarding communities from further harm.

#10 Cuban Missile Crisis

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“Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis, sparked by the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba, remains one of the most perilous episodes in modern history, with the specter of nuclear annihilation looming large over the world. However, the crisis also stands as a testament to the significance of diplomacy, strategic communication, and crisis de-escalation in preventing catastrophic outcomes. Demonstrating restraint, resolve, and a commitment to dialogue, leaders on both sides, including President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, navigated the crisis with caution, ultimately preserving global peace and security.

#11 Collective action to address the ozone layer depletion

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“Humanity collectively decided that we’ll act to close the continent sized hole in the ozone layer.”

The collective efforts to address the ozone hole have been largely successful. The implementation of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which aimed to phase out ozone-depleting substances, has led to significant reductions in these harmful chemicals. As a result, the rate of ozone depletion has slowed, and in some regions, the ozone layer has shown signs of recovery. While challenges remain, such as continued monitoring and enforcement, the global response to the ozone hole demonstrates the effectiveness of international cooperation in addressing environmental threats.

#12 The resolution of the Bosnian conflict

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“The Bosnian conflict and the taking of Pristina Airfield in 1999. The US general Wesley Clark ordered 200 British Troops to ‘Destroy’ and ‘Squash’ the Russians holding the Runways. The British Guy in charge refused to do so, understanding that if they did, WWIII would probably be all but inevitable. The US General took it to the British General, Mike Jackson, who backed up his soldier. So the British troops surrounded the airfield without combat and cut off supplies to the Russians. Two days later, they peacefully shared the Airfield.”

While details may vary depending on who you talk to, this incident from the Kosovo war of 1999 showcases the importance of diplomacy and level-headed decision-making in averting potential disasters. The refusal to escalate the situation to avoid triggering a wider conflict demonstrates the value of restraint and strategic thinking in volatile situations. It’s a remarkable example of leadership and cooperation in the face of tense international relations.

#13 Foiling a Canadian terrorist plot

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 “There was a time when a group of Canadian terrorists were planning a Canadian 9/11, where the CN tower was going to be attacked and Prime Minister Stephen Harper was going to be beheaded. It was foiled in time thanks to the RCMP.”

This chilling revelation underscores the importance of effective intelligence and law enforcement efforts in preventing catastrophic events. The quick and decisive action taken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) undoubtedly saved countless lives and prevented a major tragedy on Canadian soil. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing threats posed by terrorism and the crucial role of security agencies in safeguarding public safety.

#14 Eradication of smallpox

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“By sheer body count of deaths averted, the eradication of smallpox is hugely important.  Smallpox killed more people in just the first half of the 20th century than all the wars combined in the entire 20th century; even though the 20th century is basically a list of the deadliest wars in history.”

The eradication of smallpox stands as one of the greatest triumphs in the history of public health. Smallpox was a devastating disease that claimed millions of lives throughout history, and its eradication has saved countless more. This monumental achievement required global cooperation, widespread vaccination campaigns, and meticulous surveillance. The successful eradication of smallpox serves as a testament to what humanity can accomplish when united against a common threat.

#15 Halifax explosion in 1917

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“The Halifax explosion in 1917 was the largest man-made explosion at the time. Two ships collided in the harbor, one containing explosives. Over 1,700 dead and 9,000 injured, an entire First Nations community was destroyed from the tsunami the blast created. A Railway Dispatcher prevented further disaster by messaging a train that was about to arrive that the explosion was imminent. The message prevented not only that first train but other trains too, along with stopping ships from entering & getting a head start on rescue efforts.”

The Halifax explosion remains one of the deadliest disasters in Canadian history, with far-reaching consequences that shaped the city for decades to come. The quick thinking and decisive action of the Railway Dispatcher averted further catastrophe by warning incoming trains, preventing additional loss of life and injury. This tragic event underscores the importance of effective communication and emergency response protocols in mitigating the impact of disasters.

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