• Climate ChallengesCities Worldwide Aren’t Adapting to Climate Change Quickly Enough

    By John Rennie Short

    Climate change is magnifying threats such as flooding, wildfires, tropical storms and drought. cities are quickly becoming more vulnerable to extreme weather events and permanent shifts in their climate zones. The problem is that the pace of climate change is accelerating much more rapidly than urban areas are taking steps to adapt to it.

  • DisastersPredicting, Managing, and Preparing for Disasters Like Hurricane Ida

    By Megan Lowry

    Since Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana almost exactly 16 years ago, the National Academies have helped produce scientific insights and recommendations through initiatives to help policymakers avoid the worst impacts of future disasters.

  • Disaster responseDisaster Response and Mitigation in an AI World

    Accurately forecasting the movement of natural disasters—wildfires, floods, hurricanes, windstorms, tornados, and earthquakes—gives first responders a jump, allowing them to take measures to reduce damage, conduct advanced resource planning, and increase infrastructure restoration time.

  • Radiological threatsHomeland Security for Radiological and Nuclear Threats

    Radiation exposure events are complicated: there is a variety of radiation sources, and since radiation is invisible, and its effect may not always be immediately apparent, first responders and emergency services must prepare for a “worried well” of people requiring attention: individuals who do not have other physical injuries but are concerned about whether they have received a radiation exposure.

  • Disaster responsePlanetSense: Stepping in When Disaster Strikes

    As Hurricane Dorian raged through the Bahamas, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory worked around the clock to aid recovery efforts for one of the Caribbean’s worst storms ever. The researchers helped direct that relief, churning out geographic data that guided decisions on everything from where to open emergency shelters to how to staff first-aid centers.

  • Emergency preparednessThe Strategic Stockpile Failed; Experts Propose New Approach to Emergency Preparedness

    A new analysis of the United States government’s response to COVID-19 highlights myriad problems with an approach that relied, in large part, on international supply chains and the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). A panel of academic and military experts is instead calling for a more dynamic, flexible approach to emergency preparedness at the national level.

  • Pandemic preparednessBuilding Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience to Confront Future Pandemics

    By Sally Huang

    With the current COVID-19 pandemic revealing major gaps in national readiness, the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense brought together members of the legislative and scientific community for a virtual discussion on the need to increase and optimize resource investments to promote changes in US policy and strengthen national pandemic preparedness and response.

  • Dust explosionsReal-time Imaging to Help Prevent Deadly Dust Explosions

    Dust explosions can be among the most dangerous and costly workplace incidents. Dust builds up in agricultural, powder-handling or manufacturing settings, causing hazards to employees and posing the risk of exploding. Researchers have developed an image- and video-based application using OpenCV algorithms that detect explosible suspended dust concentration.

  • 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.