Point for Discussion
With wildfire season continuing, tornado season here, hurricane season fast approaching and volcanoes erupting in Hawaii, we have been thinking about natural disasters, and how, we as a nation, prepare for them and respond to them.
What we are doing seems less and less effective with every new disaster, and there seem to be more and more disasters.
Our Points of View
We need to think prevention and we need to think BIG! Are we doing enough to prepare? Are we responding properly? NO and NO. Nearly our entire focus is on forecasting that something bad is on its way. While this is critical and becoming highly accurate, it is not enough. We need to change the rules of engagement with natural disasters.
What do we know?
While we know that people come together to help each other, bringing out their best, we also know:
- The disasters are going to come back, year after year (e.g., the same regions tend to flood, have wildfires, have hurricanes, etc.).
- these disasters will disrupt communities and people’s lives
- homes and other structures will be at risk and will be damaged
- it will cost a fortune to rebuild
Hindsight is 20/20. We’ve been here before. We can apply our learnings, innovate, and address multiple issues at the same time.
What can we do differently?
I am not a scientist, but I am analytical, and I know there are ways to do better.
Prevention should be added to the mix. Below are just some examples for inspiration:
- Prioritize frequently hit areas with infrastructure reinforcement (the grid, sea walls and berms)
- Prevent conditions from forming (e.g., alter the air and its flow from hurricanes developing further, install a pipeline for water transfer from flood zones to non-flood zones in need of water, etc.)
- Interrupt the disaster to prevent its occurrence or lessen its impact (e.g., alter wind/air composition, coat surfaces of buildings, apply materials to forest floors to inhibit fire from spreading, etc.)
Pre-preparation should go beyond forecasting to pre-emptive actions (beyond the important food and water and neighboring state resources)
Responses should be immediately impactful
- While examples of the resilience of people is inspiring, we need to better respond in the aftermath of disasters as Katrina, Maria and Irma have shown us – by quickly getting areas back in operation (via tiered recovery actions). New Orleans and Puerto Rico show us how ineffective we can be, and how we have failed. If each of the failures in policy or procedure are objectively reviewed, teams of very smart and caring people can solve these issues and avoid them next time (because there will be a next time and a next time after that).
As the nation works to solve how we prepare and respond to natural disasters, we also need to use common sense among ourselves. For example:
- Don’t build a home on a volcano, regardless of the beauty and low cost (or just accept the consequences)
- Don’t live on an eroding coastal shoreline, because it will be going under. It’s a matter of time.
- Don’t allow people to live in evacuation zones – if a zone is needed, it’s not a safe place.
I want to stop seeing the news stories telling us what is coming – without also telling us what is being done to better prevent the disaster and minimize its impact. Rather than sensationalizing images of destruction, I want to see stories about how we, as a nation, are changing the rules of the game, and are making it through with zero casualties to people or property. That will give Mother Nature a run for her money (and maybe save us some money, and certainly heartache) in the process.
Contrary to the current administration’s perception, I firmly believe that climate change is something to be concerned about. Now, I’m not a doomsdayer by any stretch, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the trends in the weather are ever warmer and these rising temperatures are significantly impacting our weather patterns. Severe natural disasters are likely to continue as the polar caps melt, droughts worsen, and population growth continues. Not every year, but the trend toward more severe will continue.
The GWO (Global Weather Oscillations) Atlantic hurricane forecast for 2018 is for 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes including 4 that could impact the continental US. This is similar to last year’s forecast which turned out to be pretty close to what was experienced.
The hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico and the Houston area last year were devastating. It appears that FEMA learns from every event, but they don’t always put education into action. They were on the ground in Houston very quickly and the recovery was able to begin quickly. Puerto Rico was another story. Almost a year later, many in remote areas of Puerto Rico are still struggling to get back to their lives before the hurricane. It has been a long slow slog for them. And, as American citizens, I’m sure they expected more in response to the magnitude of the damage. It seems that out of sight, out of mind prevailed there. If a major infrastructure failure had occurred on the mainland, people from all over the country would have been there to help.
Laurie would like to see better preparation for these events. We have many advance warning systems in place. From American and European models to experience gained from past events. And the GWO has improved their models to tell us where the higher probability of landfall may be. So we should know the weather related events are coming. People don’t always do what they should though, and public services are always strained to rescue those that did not believe the forecasts and then found themselves in a dangerous situation. We should hope for the best, of course, and plan for the worst.
Pre-preparation, as Laurie suggests, might help but we are talking about the forces of nature here. The most recent exhibit of this is unfolding in Hawaii as we speak. Mount Kilauea is in the middle of a major eruption. Residents have been evacuated and several homes have been lost. This volcano has been continuously erupting since 1983, and as a young volcano, it is likely to continue this activity for decades, if not centuries or millenniums, going forward. Can geologists predict this sort of activity? I’m sure they can and do, but it is very easy to become complacent over time if nothing terrible happens.
To think we can rein in the forces of nature is naïve. The scientists talk about reducing our carbon footprints so that we minimize damage to the protective ozone layer and try to halt further damage. Can the damage we’ve already done be reversed? Only time will tell.
Until then we have to use our common sense or, alternatively, be willing to absorb some risk if we choose to live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. The residents near the volcano in Hawaii seem matter of fact about this. They clearly understood the risk when they moved into houses on the side of an active volcano. But time breeds complacency, and I’m sure they didn’t anticipate something this severe.
The fact is, nature always wins. If we could develop ways to control nature (I vaguely remember a disaster movie based on this premise), it could be used in war against our enemies, or used against us. Would I like to prevent the spread of wildfires? Yes. But I’m not sure there’s a practical way to do it. Maybe irrigation systems in the woods? Controlling drought is the only way, and there is no effective way to do it. I would be reluctant to add some sort of fire retardant to the forest floor. Adding chemicals is a short term solution that will be washed away or into the groundwater at the first sign of rain. It’s kind of like the lawn maintenance guys offering to put mosquito repellent in my yard. A summer storm will kill the effectiveness of that in a heartbeat. Can we dig trenches to slow the spread of fire? Sure we can, but the cost to do this everywhere would be prohibitive. And then there’s evolution. Unless these trenches are maintained, they will eventually fill back up with vegetation and we’d be right back where we started.
I don’t think there is a way to prevent these things. There are ways to mitigate the risk of costly (both loss of life and damage to property) losses. It comes down to using common sense when we decide where to build our homes, along with a more responsible approach to living, in an attempt to mitigate the damage we do to the planet we call home.
Our Question for You
What do you think? Addressing climate change or trying to prevent disasters, or a little of both?