by Judith Curry
America is growing more skilled – and getting better fast – at emergency response to disasters of growing geographical reach, cost, and complexity. But we can and should do more. America needs a comparable national effort and accompanying long-term investment in reducing the need for emergency response on such a grand scale. – Bill Hooke
Bill Hooke has a very important post on Living in the Real World, entitled Hurricane Sandy’s Real Lesson . . . will we learn it? Here are some key excerpts, but I encourage you to read the entire article.
The need for emergency response will never go away. But we shouldn’t resign ourselves to the idea that emergencies will necessarily continue to grow in scope, number and impact, just because our society is growing in numbers, in property exposure, and in economic activity. We can grow our society’s resilience to such events. We can reduce the geographical extent and the population adversely affected by future events.
[The catastrophes are partly] the result of a failure to learn from experience; an insistence on “rebuilding as before.” Each catastrophe should trigger a national conversation, not just at the federal but also state and local levels along the lines of “what can our community here learn from what happened (over there)?” And that conversation should lead to a set of mutually-supportive private- and public-sector actions to build resilience at the community level and reduce future risk.
Today we routinely file environmental impact statements detailing the implications for the environment of this or that undertaking (a new strip mine, an agricultural start-up, etc). We should similarly file statements indicating the impact of real estate development; the construction of buildings, dams, and levees; and other major projects – on the increased vulnerability to hazards they will impose on others. In this politically polarized climate, this will seem to many like another unwanted federal “taking,” but why should my freedom extend to building a levee to protect my property that will increase the risk to your property downstream on that same river? Shouldn’t I have to consult you? The requirement for Environmental Impact Statements prompted numerous complaints at the time, but today, we’ve internalized the process. It’s an accepted part of doing business. And it’s the right thing to do. That’s the similar intent of the No-Adverse-Impact policy advice of the Association of State Floodplain Managers.
Let’s get the public- and private-sectors to the table to talk strategically about how they can continue to work together to reduce disaster losses in this country. Many companies these days have business continuity plans. They know what they have to do to keep their doors open in the face of disasters. And they take those actions as best they can. But the companies can’t execute those plans if as result of the disaster their employees lose homes and either can’t make it to work or are preoccupied with domestic problems. And those open stores won’t do any business if their customers’ communities have been disrupted. Companies need a forum for partnering with local-, state-, and national government to reduce community vulnerability.
Insurance companies might provide a useful starting point. It’s likely that Sandy’s impact along all that built-up shoreline will once again highlight opportunities for improving the National Flood Insurance Program. The insurance companies, [federal agencies], and the publics they all serve have skin in the game. Such discussions are needed at the federal, state and local levels.
Here’s a final action. We can keep score. The National Academy of Sciences recommended over a decade ago that the U.S. Department of Commerce add this input to its collection of economic statistics. That recommendation should be implemented. It’s human nature to improve performance with respect to what we measure. Figures would be noisy year-to-year, but over time, we would all see the rise of those dollar losses first begin to slow and then level off, even as our economy continues to grow.
JC comments: Thank you Bill Hooke for your insightful analysis ad important recommendations. Good weather predictions and effective emergency response, while impressive and important, aren’t sufficient to deal with the rapidly expanding losses we are seeing in the U.S. and world wide from weather disasters.
Hooke’s comments are geared towards the U.S., and are arguably applicable to other developed countries. The challenges (and arguably the solutions) are somewhat different in the developing world. The low hanging fruit here is to get good weather forecasts to these countries. My company CFAN has been trying to do this (under Peter Webster’s leadership) with some small success; it is very very difficult to negotiate the complex bureaucracies in these countries. There are some signs of private sector weather forecast companies emerging in Asia, which should help the situation.