• PreparednessPoliticians Ignore Far-Out Risks: They Need to Up Their Game

    Asteroid strikes are an extreme example of the world’s willful ignorance of the need to prepare for catastrophes — but not an atypical one. Low-probability, high-impact events are a fact of life. Individual humans look for protection from them to governments and, if they can afford it, insurers. Humanity, at least as represented by the world’s governments, reveals instead a preference to ignore them until forced to react—even when foresight’s price-tag is small. It is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of the future. The Economist writes that COVID-19 offers a tragic example. Virologists, epidemiologists and ecologists have warned for decades of the dangers of a flu-like disease spilling over from wild animals. But when sars-cov-2 began to spread very few countries had the winning combination of practical plans, the kit those plans required in place and the bureaucratic capacity to enact them. Those that did benefited greatly. Taiwan has, to date, seen just seven COVID-19 deaths; its economy has suffered correspondingly less. Pandemics are disasters that governments have experience of. What therefore of truly novel threats?

  • ArgumentCrisis Response When the Status Quo Is a Crisis

    As the world experiences a global pandemic in the form of the novel coronavirus, the focus of most governments has understandably been on the health implications of this virus, and on the economic fallout of the lockdowns and other mitigation measures taken to stop its spread. Tellis Bethel and Ian Ralby write that there are two major issues whose careful consideration becomes more necessary by the day: security matters and natural disasters. “If the status quo is a pervasive disaster, how can we cope with incidental or episodic emergencies? Few states, if any, are ready for the challenge,” they write.

  • ArgumentCongress Should Investigate the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Response

    Charlie Martel, who in 2008-2009 led the staff of a bipartisan Senate investigation of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, writes that “Today, as with Katrina, the nation is faced with a deeply flawed federal response to an ongoing crisis with catastrophic consequences on a historic scale.” He adds: “Having apparently discarded the careful pandemic planning it inherited, the Trump administration has no evident strategy guiding its response to the complex crises created by the coronavirus. Administration statements and decisions have been impulsive, contradictory and in some instances dangerous. Congressional oversight is necessary to review the federal response and correct it where necessary.”

  • Overlapping disastersCOVID-19 Highlights the Need to Plan for Joint Disasters

    By Renee Cho

    June 1 is the official start of hurricane season in the U.S., and scientists are predicting a particularly active season, including more major hurricanes. We have also entered the time of year when floods, heat waves and wildfires occur more often. Over the longer term, climate change is causing more frequent extreme weather events. Rising temperatures also exacerbate the spread of disease and could make pandemics more difficult to control in the future. Considering that most risk studies in the past have been focused on single events, is the U.S. prepared to deal with the possibility of extreme weather events as well as a pandemic?

  • DisastersDisaster Responders Grapple with Planning for Extreme Weather in the Time of COVID-19

    Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above-normal 2020 hurricane season, with the possibility of three to six major hurricanes this summer looming over millions of Americans. In Michigan, record rainfall caused two dams to fail in quick succession, triggering an evacuation of over 10,000 nearby residents. In the time of COVID-19, crowding into an emergency shelter with thousands of others seems unsafe, if not impossible.

  • PreparationsCoronavirus: Governments Knew a Pandemic Was a Threat – Here’s Why They Weren’t Better Prepared

    By Chris Tyler and Peter Gluckman

    Most people think or at least hope their government is doing a good job in the face of COVID-19, according to the polls. But there can be no doubt that governments around the world were ill-prepared for this pandemic. How is it possible that we were not ready? Not only had Bill Gates been banging on about this for a long time, but pandemics also featured strongly on regional and national risk registers produced by governments and bureaucrats, as well as international registers from non-governmental organizations. Despite all the effort that has gone into developing these tools, governments around the world have been bad at acting on their warnings about a pandemic. We see at least six possible reasons for this.

  • ArgumentThe Defense Production Act and the Failure to Prepare for Catastrophic Incidents

    When early data from Mexico suggested that a new strain of influenza, H1N1, might have a mortality rate between 1 and 10 percent in April 2009, the U.S. government sprang into action. Washington anticipated that the H1N1 virus might lead to a public health catastrophe as bad or worse than what is happening today with COVID-19. Jared Brown writes that the lessons of 2009 were not learnt – or implemented. “The executive branch’s ad-hoc application of the Defense Production Act’s authorities to this pandemic is Exhibit A of how our government, across multiple Republican and Democratic administrations and throughout the national security enterprise, has failed to develop or adapt the Act’s tools for the threats of the 21st century,” he writes.

  • COVID-19: PreparationCoronavirus: Could the World Have Prepared Better for a Pandemic?

    By Neil Pyper

    As we deal with COVID-19 epidemic, obvious questions are being asked about how governments and companies can prepare themselves for these sorts of extreme events. One technique that has gained prominence in helping business people and officials deal with events that have a low probability but high impact is called scenario analysis or scenario planning. There are a number of different methods that can be used to model scenarios, but in essence these all involve developing stories about a number of possible ways that the future could unfold.

  • Perspective: CommunicationGood Communication Is a Key Part of Disaster Response

    Behind the scenes during hurricanes and other disasters, scores of public information officers (PIOs) in state and local government agencies are fixed to their screens – often in 24-hour shifts – frantically fielding facts and phone calls, rushing to get information to the news media and the public. While this work may not seem as critical as search-and-rescue operations, it is essential.

  • PreparednessPreparing for the Unexpected Disaster

    When thinking of earthquakes in the U.S., California often comes to mind. But what if a massive earthquake suddenly struck Middle America? Would first responders and emergency managers have the tools to swiftly secure infrastructure and ensure public safety? Would every level of government, as well as stakeholders at non-governmental organizations or in the private sector, know how to properly communicate and share resources? DHS S&T asked itself these questions, and they were the driving force behind S&T joining FEMA and others for FEMA’s 2019 Shaken Fury exercise.

  • Perspective: Phone alertsBritain Plans Mass Mobile Phone Alerts to Protect Public from Terrorism, Major Floods and Nuclear Attack

    Britain is planning to introduce US-style mass mobile phone alerts to protect the public against terrorism, major floods and nuclear attack. Supporters of so-called ‘cell broadcasting’ claim the message alerts could have saved lives during major incidents including the London Bridge terrorist attack and Grenfell Tower fire. Senior figures have raised concerns, however, that the messages could be hijacked by hackers or malicious foreign powers to induce mass panic.

  • EmergenciesAmerican Nurses Not Prepared for a Catastrophe: Study

    On average, American colleges and universities with nursing programs offer about one hour of instruction in handling catastrophic situations such as nuclear events, pandemics, or water contamination crises, according to two recent studies. “We are putting people out there to attend these emergencies, and we owe it to them to prepare them right,” says one expert.

  • PerspectiveA “Responsibility to Prepare”: A strategy for presidential leadership on the security risks of climate change

    Presidential candidates are offering their plans on climate change, and it’s a competition over who’s the most ambitious. That’s good news, given that it’s a major security threat that requires a major response. Thus far, most of the candidates’ plans understandably focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a low-carbon economy. These steps are critically important, not least because the world will likely experience significant security disruptions in the future if the scale and scope of climate change are not reduced. Caitlin Werrell, Francesco Femia, and John Conger write in War in the Rocks that this is only half a strategy. Indeed, if there is a silver lining to climate change and the attendant security risks, it’s that we can see many of these changes coming. American scientists, the U.S. government (see this administration’s National Climate Assessment) and private industry have all shown they are capable of modeling climate change futures with a high degree of certainty compared to other trends. A climate model from 1967 still has a strong predictive capacity. Exxon’s own internal calculations and climate modeling from 1982 about where emissions would likely be in the future, including by 2020, were fairly spot-on. A political scientist in 1967 or 1982 would have had much more difficulty predicting what the political landscape would look like in 2020 than she or he would have making predictions about the climate.

  • Disaster preparationEarthquakes or tiger attacks: understanding what people fear most can help prevent disasters

    By Hanna Ruszczyk.

    Understanding what people worry about is crucial to preparing for natural hazards such as earthquakes and mitigating their effects. To prevent disasters, local people, municipal authorities and national governments all need to pull in the same direction – especially when budgets are low for disaster planning. But if residents feel that their everyday fears are ignored by those in power, they may disengage, leaving authorities unable to influence their behavior in a time of crisis.

  • Disaster preparationPreparing low-income communities for hurricanes begins with outreach

    Interviews with economically disadvantaged New Jerseyans in the areas hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy yield advice for future disasters.