• Disaster warningWorst-case scenarios: Why we should welcome warnings

    By Peter Dizikes

    Nuclear accidents. Sea level rise. Terror threats. The world is full of potential catastrophes, but most of the time, most of us are oblivious to them. Still, at times, experts warn the rest of us about these potential crises. Sometimes those warnings work, but many times they go unheeded. Why do we ignore information we could use to stave off a disaster? Richard Clarke, the former chief counter-terrorism advisor on the National Security Council, says that we should be more receptive to the possibility of dire news, as well as more systematic about analyzing it. In his new book, Warnings, Clarke asserts that specialists in a range of fields can “see the thing buried in the data that other people don’t see. They see it first.”

  • EarthquakesThe “Really Big One”: How a 9.0 Cascadia earthquake could play out

    One of the worst nightmares for many Pacific Northwest residents is a huge earthquake along the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone, which would unleash damaging and likely deadly shaking in coastal Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and northern California. The last time this happened was in 1700, before seismic instruments were around to record the event. So what will happen when it ruptures next is largely unknown.

  • Climate change threatsWarming seas could lead to 70 percent increase in hurricane-related financial loss

    If oceans warm at a rate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN-sponsored group that assesses climate change research and issues periodic reports, expected financial losses caused by hurricanes could increase more than 70 percent by 2100, according to researchers. The finding is based on the panel’s most severe potential climate change scenario – and resulting increased sea surface temperature – and is predicted at an 80 percent confidence level. The model drew on hurricane data for the last 150 years gathered by NOAA.

  • DisastersKnowing more and loosing less: Science and helps in disaster risk management

    Natural and man-made disasters threaten millions of people every year and cause billions of property damage. How much do we know about them? And how can we use that knowledge to save lives and money? A recent report —Science for Disaster Risk Management 2017: Knowing More and Losing Less — seeks to answer these and other questions and to help prepare for the time when disaster strikes.

  • Emerging threatsRisk analysis for common ground on climate loss and damage

    The Paris Agreement included groundbreaking text on the need for a mechanism to help identify risks beyond adaptation and support the victims of climate-related loss and damage — but how exactly it will work remains unclear. The question of how to deal with dangerous climate change as being experienced and perceived by developing countries and communities has been one of the most contentious questions in international climate negotiations.

  • Risk assessmentNew tool to measure homeland security risks

    DHS has a broad and complex mission, with priorities that include preparing for and responding to a range of terrorist events, natural disasters, and major accidents.Researchers have applied a tool originally developed to address risks in environmental policy, the Deliberative Method for Ranking Risk, to aid in strategic planning for security.

  • FloodsIncreasing speed, accuracy of flood risk assessment

    New research hopes to provide advances in the planning for flood risk, thanks to a new, faster method of assessing the highly complex factors that cause floods in a specific location. The results of the study have shown it is possible to increase the speed of a highly accurate flood risk prediction by between 100-1,000 times compared with techniques currently used by researchers to estimate flood risk under climate change.

  • Emerging threatsU.K. government rejected flood warnings from own advisers

    Critics charge that the U.K. government was warned by both the government’s own climate change experts and outside consultants that there was a need to take urgent action to protect the increasing number areas in Britain which are becoming susceptible to flooding, but that the government rejected the advice. Despite the urging of its own climate experts, the U.K. government in October, just a few weeks before the devastating flooding in Cumbria, decided not to develop comprehensive strategy to address flood risk.

  • InfrastructurePipeline replacement programs are effective

    Aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and natural gas and water mains, is an increasing concern. In 2011 the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a call to action to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of the highest-risk pipeline infrastructure. Invisible gas leaks from aging or damaged pipelines cost U.S. consumers billions of dollars every year, contribute to global warming and, in rare cases, cause dangerous explosions. Pipeline replacement programs in cities, however, can cut natural gas leaks by 90 percent, a new study finds. “The surprise wasn’t that replacement programs worked,” said the study’s lead author. “It was that they worked so well.”

  • Insider threatInsider threats, organizational rigidity pose challenges for U.S. national security: Study

    U.S. national security faces rising challenges from insider threats and organizational rigidity, a Stanford professor says. A new study says that in the past five years, seemingly trustworthy U.S. military and intelligence insiders have been responsible for a number of national security incidents, including the WikiLeaks publications and the 2009 attack at Fort Hood in Texas that killed 13 and injured more than 30. The study’s author acknowledges the difficulties of learning lessons from tragedies like 9/11, the NASA space shuttle accidents, and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. She notes that policymakers tend to attribute failure to people and policies. While seemingly hidden at times, the organizational roots of disaster are much more important than many think, she added.

  • Risk analysisBig Data, Internet of Things enable real-time probabilistic risk analysis

    Statistical models are playing an increasingly important role in risk analysis and helping the United States and other countries around the globe mitigate the effects of natural and man-made disasters. With the increased ability to collect data through the Internet of Things and analyze this data in real time, the field of risk analysis is entering an exciting new phase based on real-time probabilistic risk analysis. This emerging paradigm can enable humans to better manage risks associated with complex systems, including space shuttles launching into orbit, illicit nuclear materials crossing national boundaries and the side effects of chemicals and even medical drugs.

  • Climate & securityClimate change risk assessment: “The inconvenient may become intolerable”

    An international group of scientists, energy policy analysts, and experts in risk from finance and the military on Monday released a new independent assessment of the risks of climate change, designed to support political leaders in their decisions on how much priority to give to the issue. Their report argues that the risks of climate change should be assessed in the same way as risks to national security or public health. This means focusing on understanding what is the worst that could happen and how likely it is to occur. The report identifies thresholds beyond which “the inconvenient may become intolerable.” These include limits of human tolerance for heat stress, and limits of crops’ tolerance for high temperatures, which if exceeded could lead to large-scale fatalities and crop failure; as well as potential limits to coastal cities’ ability to successfully adapt to rising sea levels.

  • Climate & securityClimate change risk assessment: Policy brief

    The international group of experts which yesterday released the report Climate Change: A Risk Assessment (University of Cambridge, July 2015), summarized their recommendations in a policy brief. “An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism. Just as small changes in climate can have very large effects, the same can be true for changes in government policy, technological capability, and financial regulation,” the experts write. “Leadership can make this virtuous circle turn faster, more fully mobilizing our ingenuity, resources, and commitment. In this way, the goal of preserving a safe climate for the future need not be beyond our reach.”

  • Emerging threatsEmerging threats require a new social contract between the state, citizens: Study

    Technological advancements create opportunities for governments and the private sector, but they also pose a threat to individual privacy and individual – and public — safety, which most Americans look to the government to protect. The authors of a new book on emerging threats argue that while, at one time, “the government used to be our sole provider of security,” companies which store troves of private information are also key to Americans’ privacy and security. They say that the United States may need a new social contract between the state and its citizens on matters of security and privacy. “The old social contract has its roots in the security dilemmas of the Enlightenment era,” they write. “In our new era, everyone is simultaneously vulnerable to attack and menacing to others. That requires a different, more complex social contract — one that we are just starting to imagine.”

  • GeohazardsExtreme geohazards: Reducing disaster risk, increasing resilience

    Extreme hazards — rare, high-impact events — pose a serious and underestimated threat to humanity. The extremes of the broad ensemble of natural and anthropogenic hazards can lead to global disasters and catastrophes. Because they are rare and modern society lacks experience with them, they tend to be ignored in disaster risk management. While the probabilities of most natural hazards do not change much over time, the sensitivity of the built environment and the vulnerability of the embedded socio-economic fabric have increased rapidly.