• U.S. firefighters and police turn to an Israeli app to save lives

    When Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys in September 2017, the new First Response app from Israeli-American company Edgybees helped first-responders identify distress calls in flooded areas. When wildfires hit Northern California a month later, the app steered firefighters away from danger. This lifesaving augmented-reality app — designed only months before as an AR racing game for drone enthusiasts — is now used by more than a dozen fire and police departments in the United States, as well as the United Hatzalah emergency response network in Israel.

  • It pays to build to withstand disasters

    For every dollar the government spends to make existing buildings more resistant to wildfires, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, $6 is saved in property losses, business interruption and health problems, according to a new study. The study also found that for every $1 spent to exceed building codes and make structures more hazard-resistant in the future, $4 would be saved. In all, over the next 75 years, these measures could prevent 600 deaths, 1 million injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, the report concludes.

  • Sea levels rising more than previously expected

    Studying twenty-five years’ worth of satellite data, scientists paint a grim picture of global warming. Sea levels are going up at a faster rate each year, and even sooner than projected. The calculate that at the current pace, the total sea level rise could be twice as high as previous projections by 2100.

  • Helping Georgia companies prepare for natural disasters

    The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) is seeking eligible manufacturers to participate in a disaster assistance program designed to help companies that are located in the state’s coastal areas assess their preparedness and develop operational solutions to minimize the impact of future hurricanes and other natural disasters.

  • Corporations can benefit from altruism during a crisis

    Altruism – and social media – can help corporations cultivate trust with consumers on mobile devices during and after natural disasters, such as hurricanes. “Companies that engage in corporate social responsibility efforts during and after a disaster can build strong relationships with consumers,” says one researcher. “This is particularly true if companies are communicating their efforts through social media aimed at mobile device users – but only if their efforts appear altruistic.”

  • Risk of extreme weather events higher if Paris Agreement goals are not met

    The Paris Agreement has aspirational goals of limiting temperature rise that will not be met by current commitments but the individual commitments made by parties of the UN Paris Agreement are not enough to fulfill the agreement’s overall goal of limiting global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The difference between the UN goal and the actual country commitments is a mere 1 C, which may seem negligible, but a new study finds that even that 1-degree difference could increase the likelihood of extreme weather.

  • Lost in the numbers: The hidden traumas of disaster

    In the aftermath of disasters – hurricanes, earthquakes, epidemics, armed conflict, and the like – it is difficult to describe the true extent of damage wrought on society. Lost in these numbers is a hidden trauma that is difficult to measure, even when it is diagnosed. Disasters affect the mental health not only of those directly impacted by the disaster, but of those everywhere the disaster causes distress. Mental trauma is widespread, affecting far more people than physical injury. Long after physical wounds heal, mental trauma remains. Failing to address mental trauma neglects the well-being of tens of thousands of Americans, and millions more around the globe, each year.

  • Understanding community resilience, recovery in face of disaster

    From Puerto Rico to Missouri to California, Americans in recent years have confronted disasters that have disrupted communities and destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure. A team of engineers, computer scientists, economists, urban planners and sociologists are part of 5-year study examining how communities recover from disaster and become more resilient to future adversity. “Resilience is a community’s ability to prepare for, anticipate and adapt to challenging conditions, and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions,” says one researcher.

  • Running out of water: Cape Town, the U.S., and drought

    The recent news that Cape Town, South Africa—a modern city of nearly 4 million residents (plus over 1.5 million tourists yearly)—was on the brink of running out of water, the taps about to run dry, put water back into the headlines. After years of drought in several American states, could this happen closer to home? “The current crisis in Cape Town will almost inevitably repeat itself elsewhere,” says an expert. “Because of geography, many cities in the United States and the world are highly or entirely reliant on local precipitation. In California, for example, most of the Central Coast, including Monterey and Santa Cruz, currently depend on local rainfall. Given climate change, moreover, droughts in the arid regions of the world are likely to become more frequent and more severe. Warmer temperatures, moreover, will raise evapotranspiration rates—increasing agricultural water needs and the amount of stored water lost to evaporation.”

  • Houston-area officials approved a plan for handling a natural disaster — then ignored it

    Seven months before Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston area with a trillion gallons of water and led to widespread criticism of the Red Cross, Harris County adopted a disaster-preparation plan whose key assumption was that the Red Cross would be slow to act. “In a major disaster where there is widespread damage, the local resources of the Red Cross may be overwhelmed and not available immediately,” stated the plan. “It may be upwards of seven days before the Red Cross can assume a primary care and shelter role.” But in the seven months between the plan’s passage and the landfall of Harvey, the county took few steps to implement its strategy. Indeed, when dire flooding forced thousands of people from their homes, 3,036 emails obtained in a public records request suggest, officials didn’t even seem aware that a plan existed.

  • Studying Caribbean hurricane damage to reduce hurricane risks worldwide

    The biggest natural disaster to ever hit the Caribbean island of Dominica is now likely to provide guidelines for reducing the risk globally of disaster from hurricanes. Scientists are surveying the damage to Dominica’s landscape, infrastructure and communities following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Dominica was devastated by the hurricane last September which left 68 people dead or missing. The hurricane registered as Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum wind speeds of 260 km/h.

  • Cape Town water crisis highlights a worldwide problem

    The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees. Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too. As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water. If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk?

  • Comparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • With glaciers disappearing, will water become scarce?

    There are around 200,000 glaciers worldwide. They play a central role in the water cycle, particularly in the middle and low latitudes, by offsetting runoff fluctuations. Rivers are lifelines on which billions of people depend worldwide, either directly or indirectly. The world’s largest rivers begin in glaciated mountain regions. Climate change may cause many glaciers to disappear. Will water become scarce? Will the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes continue to act as water towers? Climate change is a global problem with local consequences. If the international community succeeds in restricting the temperature rise to an acceptable level via contributions from each individual member, the effects may be mitigated. Many glaciers would still shrink significantly even with major climate protection efforts, but the consequences for water resources would be more moderate.

  • Desalination: global examples show how Cape Town could up its game

    Day zero is looming for Cape Town and a dedicated and efficient long-term solution to South Africa’s water woes must be found. The weather can’t be controlled and drought patterns for the region are set to worsen. It’s time to stop relying solely on rainfall and dam levels for clean water as a critical resource. South Africa boasts a coastline of over 2500 kilometers so it should be considering the oceans as an abundant water supply. Converting seawater to clean drinking water can be achieved by desalination, a proven technology that’s been used around the world. Desalination plants have dramatically increased in number and sophistication around the world due to membrane technology breakthroughs and energy saving equipment. Three global examples in Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Israel show that South Africa could increase water output in a timely and cost effective way.