Resilience / Recovery

  • ResilienceWe need to change how and where we build to be ready for a future of more extreme weather

    By Keith Krumwiede

    The human and economic losses resulting from extreme weather events during the last several years vividly demonstrate the U.S. historically shortsighted approach to development. The ill-advised, fast-paced construction of human settlements in low-lying, coastal and riverine environments prone to flooding has long been the American way. From Galveston to Hoboken, we have laid out our grids and thrown up our houses with little regard for the consequences. Storms like Sandy are a harbinger of extreme weather events to come as a result of climate change. Without concerted action, the costs, in lives and property, of future weather events will only multiply. Rather than spending $25 million on PR campaigns to convince ourselves we’re “stronger than the storm,” we should start making choices that prove we’re smarter. For while we can’t say when the next hurricane with the force of Sandy (or even greater force) will batter the Atlantic Coast or when extreme flooding will hit Texas, we do know that there will be a next time. And we’re still fundamentally unprepared for it. We can’t continue to bet against climate change; we’ll lose in the end.

  • Disaster reliefGifts of cash may be best way to rebuild lives of disaster victims

    By Paul Niehaus

    Historically, the orthodox approach to helping people in humanitarian emergencies has been to give them things – food, water, hygienic supplies and so on. There’s an argument for this approach, but also a very real risk: that we give people the wrong things. And the network of contractors and subcontractors often used to administer this “in-kind” aid is sufficiently complex and opaque that we can’t really tell how we’re performing. As researchers have begun conducting rigorous experimental tests of anti-poverty strategies (“randomized controlled trials”), seeking reliable answers to the question “what works?” a consistent finding has been that simply giving money directly to individuals works quite well. Multiple studies have found that when people in need receive cash and the freedom to spend it as they choose, the results are impressive.

  • EarthquakesSeismologists deploy after a quake to learn more, so we can prepare for the next one

    By Ray Russo

    The simple truth about great earthquakes, and the miserable cascade of events they often trigger, is this: if an earthquake has affected a region, recently or in historical records, then future earthquakes in that region are inevitable. Globally, we need a program of identification and characterization of potentially hazardous faults in urban areas. From those studies, site-specific expected seismic shaking maps can be developed and construction codes and engineering design specifications for infrastructure enacted, mitigating hazard to new and future construction. Then urban political leaders and civil defense agencies must collaborate to lead local populations in an open and honest dialog to identify both irreplaceable cultural heritage, and also infrastructure that must survive natural disasters intact in order to prevent an earthquake from triggering a series of consequent catastrophes — fires, water, and food shortages and disease outbreaks. These structures should be retrofitted to survive the predicted shaking from the maximum expected magnitude earthquake for the given area. A number of different mechanisms to pay for this costly preventive engineering are almost certainly needed, tailored to local conditions.

  • Oil spillsDeepwater Horizon consequences continues to plague Gulf Coast communities

    Five years after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, communities along the Gulf of Mexico continue to struggle with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to researchers. While most of the nation’s attention continues to focus on the environmental and financial toll of the spill that killed eleven workers and flooded Gulf waters with millions of gallons of oil, the less obvious consequences, including those related to public health, may prove the most long-lasting, the researchers say.

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  • ResilienceBuilding healthier communities essential for recovering from disasters

    U.S. communities and federal agencies should more intentionally seek to create healthier communities during disaster preparation and recovery efforts — something that rarely happens now, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. By adding a health “lens” to planning and recovery, a community can both mitigate the health damage caused by disasters and recover in ways that make the community healthier and more resilient than it was before.

  • DisastersNew “life years” measure assesses human impact of 2011 Canterbury, New Zealand quake

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has devised the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) calculations, which assesses the cumulative number of “lifeyears,” or healthy years, citizens have lost due to death, injuries, and being otherwise significantly affected such as having to evacuate their homes, and the financial damages they have incurred. Globally, on average the world loses about forty million lifeyears per year because of disasters, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries. Using the DALY calculations, researchers have calculated that each person in Canterbury, new Zealand lost approximately 150 days of “healthy life” in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.

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  • Coastal infrastructureBoston prepares for life with rising sea levels

    A 2013 World Bank studylisted only seven cities in the world as more vulnerable to flooding than Boston. The other American cities are Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Tampa. Faced with the prospect of having a significant portion of the city underwater, city officials and private developers have launched a competition to redesign Boston for the year 2100, with the assumption that sea levels will be five feet higher than they are today. The Living With Watercompetition looks to prove that the future of Boston can coexist with rising sea levels.

  • Oil spillsMissing oil from Deepwater Horizon 2010 accident found

    After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it. Now, a new study finds that some six million to ten million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about sixty-two miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

  • Infrastructure protectionU.S. yet to develop a strategy to secure nation’s critical infrastructure

    For years, the U.S. government has warned federal and state agencies about the threat posed by hackers who may target computer systems responsible for operating nuclear plants, electric substations, oil and gas pipelines, transit systems, chemical facilities, and drinking water facilities. In February 2013, President Barack Obama issued a directive stating, “It is the policy of the United States to strengthen the security and resilience of its critical infrastructure against both physical and cyber threats.” Two years later the federal government has yet to develop or adopt a consensus on how to secure America’s critical infrastructure from cyber criminals.

  • ResiliencePreparing the Pacific Northwest for the Big One

    More than three hundred years ago this week, the geologic fault off Washington and Oregon’s coast lurched and caused a massive earthquake. The resulting tsunami sent ocean water surging far inland, and generated waves felt across the Pacific Ocean in Japan. Now, on the quake’s 315th anniversary, scientists are helping prepare the region for a repeat event that could come at any time. Efforts include helping design the first tsunami evacuation structure in the United States, a campus-wide research project on major earthquakes, and an upcoming rollout of early earthquake alerts.

  • Coastal infrastructureN.C. considering regulations to cope with sea-level rise

    Later this week, researchers peer-reviewing the latest draft report that investigates sea-level rise along North Carolina’s coast, will submit their comments to the state Coastal Resources Commission’s(CRC) Science Panel. The initial 2010 report faced criticism from climate change skeptics and some property developers who claimed the report’s 100-year outlook on sea-level rise was unrealistic. The new report looks at changes along the coast for a period of thirty years.

  • Disaster responseDrawing disaster response lessons by comparing quake responses

    Following the devastating 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake which hit the Tohoku region of Japan, many local and provincial governments rushed to aid the people in the area with personnel and materials, providing important relief in a time of crisis. At a recent symposium, some were comparing the response to the 2011 disaster to the response to the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 in order to draw lessons and offer guidelines in effective crisis management.

  • LandslidesWashington State seeks better responses to landslides

    The March 2014 Oso landslide in Snohomish County, Washington State, killed forty-three people. A state commission, including experts in emergency management, land planning and development, geology, and hydrology, appointed by Washington state governor Jay Inslee to determine how better to avoid and respond to landslides released seventeen recommendations on last Monday.

  • California waterL.A. water supply vulnerable to disruption by earthquakes

    Eighty-eight percent of Los Angeles’s water comes from the Colorado River, Owens Valley, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, passing through three major aqueducts and into the region. The aqueducts cross the San Andreas Fault a total of thirty-two times, making them vulnerable to the much anticipated Big One.A large temblor on the fault could destroy sections of the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply for more than twenty-two million people in Southern California.

  • Disaster recoveryComplaints grow about New Mexico’s handling of emergencies, disaster relief

    New Mexico’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM)wasformed in 2007 by consolidating the state’s Office of Homeland Security and the Emergency Management Division. It is responsible for coordinating emergency and disaster relief efforts with all levels of government, providing training to emergency managers, and analyzing security threats. DHSEM, however, has a history of failing to respond swiftly to disaster related requests, according to internal reports, e-mails, audits, and interviews with current and former employees.