Welcome to the third issue of “Disaster Discourse Monthly,” an e-newsletter that curates news about innovations, advancements in technology, and groundbreaking practices in emergency management. Developed by Hagerty Consulting, Inc., we hope this newsletter is a useful way to share key insights that can help our industry better prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters. We only send this newsletter once a month, but if that’s still one more email than you’d like to receive, just click here to unsubscribe.
Enjoy this issue (and any of our past issues), and we’ll see you next month.
Mudslides, Landslides, and Debris Flows
After the devastating fires in California were contained, the lasting damage of scorched earth made areas susceptible to devastating mudslides and debris flows; these debris flows were made worse by unprecedented rainfall. There is a high probability that similar events could recur – even this winter. The debris flows have raised discussion about the possibility of new mapping and “landslide zoning.” Like flood zoning, this could help communities be on the alert – and be better prepared – for these events.
The discussion about communication in emergency management continues – both in California and in other communities – in light of recent events. The Montecito Mudslides proved to be a tricky situation for emergency managers, balancing the real need to issue life-safety warnings but not be seen as “crying wolf.” In this case, disaster fatigue for the general public was a factor, which subject matter experts suggest can be overcome by building community trust of emergency management organizations and their expertise.
Several weeks ago, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency accidentally sent a false alarm that a ballistic missile was en route to the islands, which left many people afraid and unsure of how to respond. We now know more about how the alert was sent, and why it took time to correct the alert. Whether the alert is accidental or in response to a real world incident, Hagerty’s Active Threat Portfolio Lead, David Schuld, emphasizes it’s important to educate your public about what to do after an alert is sent out.
Disasters in 2017 resulted in more than $300 billion in damages nationwide. Nationally, the conversation on resilience has led to more attention on the increasing risk due to disasters in the future. Adding to this dialogue, a recent study has shown that for every federal dollar spent on resilience and mitigation, social costs for future disasters are reduced by six dollars in the long run. For example, Louisiana wants to buy out vulnerable homes along the coast to support mitigation from future disasters, a task which may be possible under future federal funding packages as FEMA pushes pre-disaster mitigation funding.
The unprecedented flooding that accompanied hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria has also opened a dialogue about how to rebuild and better prepare for future events. In New York, flood maps are currently being completely redrawn for the first time since 1983; these changes will shape the future sustainability of New York and could serve as an example for other communities across the country of the importance of accounting for changing climate. In addition, in Houston, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is proposing a Metropolitan Housing Regional Watershed Assessment, which would examine watersheds in the region and ultimately lead to more “sustainable flood risk management.”
One creative way communities can address future flood threats is to “amphibiate” structures to rise with flood waters, which could help homes truly adapt to a changing climate rather than fighting against it. While we all can’t predict what the future holds, both mapping and emerging innovations offer communities ideas on how they might mitigate the future risks from flooding.
News of school shootings continue to fill our news feeds. The New York Times reports there have been 11 school shootings since the new year. A recent shooting in Kentucky tragically resulted in two students killed and 18 injured. It has been reported that faculty and staff present reacted exactly as they should – a credit to the training course offered to the school. This underscores the importance of training for active shooter and active threat incidents. In order to help schools better prepare, the Department of Homeland Security and US Army are creating a simulator for teachers to practice how to react to a shooting. The creators hope the simulation leads to a greater understanding of these situations and a better ability to respond.
Winter inevitably brings sickness, and this year’s flu season has promised to be a bad one. While communities may be equipped with the flu vaccine and the seasoned advice of medical practitioners, what if the flu became a pandemic? The New York Times essay by Professor and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael T. Osterholm underscores the need for infrastructure and research to combat the possibility of a worldwide outbreak. While there’s no universal vaccine currently, doctors still say it’s important to get a flu shot; as with any mitigation, it’ll reduce risk (and, perhaps, spare a few painful days on the couch).
Earlier this month, two major flaws in computer chips were discovered that appeared to leave almost all computer devices vulnerable to attack. While repairs are in the works, this incident is yet another reminder of how important it is to prepare your organization to deal with cyber-attacks before they happen, ensuring successful continuity of operations.