• What lessons will Houston-area officials learn from Harvey? History gives us a clue

    As Houston begins to recover from Harvey, a growing chorus of voices is calling for big policy changes to reduce flood damage from future disasters. Local officials haven’t said much about what they might pursue, but history offers some clues.

  • North Korea threatens EMP attack on U.S.

    North Korea’s relentless march toward acquiring the capability to place a hydrogen bomb on top of an ICBM will soon pose a threat to all major U.S. cities. There is another threat that marrying of a hydrogen bomb to a powerful rocket poses: An EMP threat. The North Koreans could launch a missile into the upper atmosphere, then detonate a high-yield hydrogen bomb in space in order to generate an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which would shut down the U.S. power grid and damage electrical devices. Experts testifying before the Congressional EMP Commission said that in the event of a massive EMP attack on the United States using multiple high-yield warheads, around 90 percent of the American population would be dead after eighteen months due to famine, disease, and societal breakdown.

  • Climate change, infrastructure, and the economic impacts of Hurricane Harvey

    Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation with an economy the size of Sweden, and many other cities and towns in southeastern Texas have been devastated by the torrential rains and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Estimates put total rainfall in some areas as high as 52 inches, shattering the record for highest rainfall from a single storm in the continental United States. Stanford experts comment on how climate change and infrastructure planning contribute to the severity of impacts from extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey.

  • What Hurricane Harvey says about risk, climate and resilience

    The risks we face from disasters depend on three factors: hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. Despite the politicized discourse that suggests that the science is somehow a matter of opinion rather than fact, we are incredibly vulnerable to natural disasters – disasters that are increasingly being amplified in a warming world. What sensible, pragmatic, bipartisan steps can we take to increase our resilience to risks that a disaster like Hurricane Harvey represents? First and foremost, we should reduce our exposure and build resilience to the hazards we already face today. We can’t continue building in places that we know will flood. We need to build and modernize infrastructure to make our water management systems more resilient to both floods and droughts. Ultimately, though, even these practical steps may not be enough. In a changing climate, building capacity and resilience to cope with today’s risks leave us unprepared for future extremes. That’s why, in order to reduce the risk of disasters both here and abroad, we need to minimize the climate change that is turbocharging these events. Hurricane Harvey exemplifies the risks we all face – and a more dangerous future if we don’t take actions now. More people and vulnerable infrastructure exposed to more frequent and intense hazards equals even greater risk for us in the future. The time to rethink the equation is now.

  • Finding better routes for relief supplies to disaster sites like Houston

    Harvey’s trail of destruction through southern Texas this week is drawing attention to the difficulty of providing relief services in a place where roads, ports, and airports are heavily damaged, if not destroyed. One expert uses mathematical modeling and high-powered computing to develop quicker, more efficient ways of moving something from one place to another. “Commercial supply chains are focused on quality and profitability,” she says. “Humanitarian supply chains are focused on minimizing loss of life and suffering, and distribution is focused on equity and fairness much more than in commercial applications.”

  • To aid flood victims, forget goods. Send money

    Harvard experts offer advice on how best to help. “There is a natural inclination for generous people to send supplies of all sorts,” says Arnold Howitt, co-founder and co-director of the Program on Crisis Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. “We don’t know exactly what displaced people need, and the task of unpacking, sorting, and routing various items that randomly arrive in the disaster area is usually well beyond the constrained capabilities of the aid providers on the scene.”

  • Post-earthquake losses: Devastating and costly

    Since 1900, 2.3 million people have died in 2,233 earthquakes, yet it is important to understand that 93 percent of the fatalities that occurred as a result of violent earthquakes happened in only 1 percent of key earthquakes. In other words, the worst devastation tends to happen in only a very few quakes and generally as a result of dire secondary effects. A new study recommends we shift our focus to learn from and prepare against the range of disasters that typically follow — and for which we are often unprepared.

  • Enabling communities to be disaster-proof

    S&T says that one of its “visionary goals” is to enable communities to be disaster-proof. S&T cannot eliminate disasters, but it can arm decision makers with tools and plans that will ultimately shield communities from negative consequences. A critical step towards building disaster-proof communities is being able to ask and receive help from a neighbor. Though most disasters begin and end locally, large-scale and catastrophic disasters require coordinated mutual aid from a broad range of partners across geographic boundaries.

  • Biomedical research community should build resilience to disasters

    The academic biomedical research community should improve its ability to mitigate and recover from the impacts of disasters, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences. The consequences of recent disasters, from hurricanes to cyberattacks, have shown that the investments of the U.S. federal government and other research sponsors — which total about $27 billion annually — are not uniformly secure. “Continuing scientific advancement and the promise of future discoveries will require a commitment to resilience — and an unparalleled partnership across the emergency management and academic research sectors,” says one of the report’s authors.

  • Resilience study helps governments prevent disaster-related loss

    Hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis and other disasters cannot be stopped, but countries can plan for them — something some areas of the world seem to do better than others, according to a new study. The researchers derived 38 factors that affect a country’s resilience, using national and international databases which included the U.S. Census, the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The researchers used these databases to grade the resilience of each country and continent and develop a comprehensive index that includes indicators such as the number of disasters and their death tolls, as well as an area’s population, infrastructure, economy and educational system.

  • New data set explores 90 years of natural disasters in the U.S.

    Every year, major earthquakes, floods and hurricanes occur. These natural disasters disrupt daily life and, in the worst cases, cause devastation. Events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy killed thousands of people and generated billions of dollars in losses. There is also concern that global climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of weather–related disasters. We have created a new database that covers disasters in the United States from 1920 to 2010 at the county level. Our work shows that people move away from areas hit by the largest natural disasters, but smaller disasters have little effect on migration. The data also showed that these trends may worsen inequality in the United States, as the rich move away from disaster-prone areas, while the poor are left behind.

  • Citizen science to aid in disaster response

    After natural disasters, communities need fast access to damage assessment maps to aid relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts. Researchers have developed a new way to link volunteers around the world with a way to help communities after major disasters, aiming to aid disaster damage mapping, providing much-needed real-time data to help communities recover and rebuild after disaster. For the next few weeks they are testing the new system – inviting the public to take part.

  • New resilience study helps governments prevent disaster-related loss

    Hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and other disasters cannot be stopped, but countries can plan for them — something some areas of the world seem to do better than others, according to a new study. In the study, thirty-eight factors that affect a country’s resilience were derived from national and international databases, and the researchers used these databases to grade the resilience of each country and continent and develop a comprehensive index that includes indicators such as the number of disasters and their death tolls, as well as an area’s population, infrastructure, economy and educational system.

  • How disaster relief efforts could be improved with game theory

    The number of disasters has doubled globally since the 1980s, with the damage and losses estimated at an average $100 billion a year since the new millennium, and the number of people affected also growing. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the costliest natural disaster in the U.S., with estimates between $100 billion and $125 billion. The death toll of Katrina is still being debated, but we know that at least 2,000 were killed, and thousands were left homeless. Worldwide, the toll is staggering. The challenges to disaster relief organizations, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are immense, and the competition among them is intense. My team and I have been looking at a novel way to improve how we respond to natural disasters. One solution might be game theory.

  • Recovery lessons from Hurricane Sandy to help improve resilience, disaster preparedness

    Purdue University will lead a $2.5 million, four-year research to determine why some communities recover from natural disasters more quickly than others, an effort aimed at addressing the nation’s critical need for more resilient infrastructure and to enhance preparedness. The research team will apply advanced simulations and game-theory algorithms, access millions of social media posts and survey data collected along the New Jersey shore, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.