Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Unnatural Disasters Are The Most Dangerous

When it comes to establishing policies and practices that promote resilient communities, there is much attention given to climate-related events.  In fact, the United Nations' Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, doesn't even mention earthquakes (or tsunami or volcanic eruption) within its pages.  As this blog so frequently points out, however, geologic hazards (and related events) take as many lives as climate disasters do. Adapting to both must be our focus, regardless of what actions we may take on the climate side to adopt mitigating practices like reducing energy and carbon emissions.

Curious, I began investigating historical statistics regarding the disasters that have killed the most human beings, thinking that we should always prioritize measures to thwart those events at the top of our adaptation policy list.  It didn't take long to discover something quite horrific.  The most loss of life for any known historic (non-war, non-pandemic-related) disaster occurred in the very recent (relatively speaking) past--partially within my own lifetime, in fact.

First, I ran across this fascinating graphic.  It's a very large image (in its original form, here), but a piece of it is depicted below:

See the largest "bubble?"  It turns out that the largest loss of life in a known disaster occurred during the Great Chinese Famine of 1957-62. Many tend to remove "famine" and "pandemic" from the list of disaster mortality statistics, as they would war deaths. But I appreciated this article addressing it as they did--particularly given that the famine has, at least in part, "natural" origins.  Like so many natural events that turn into "disasters" due to human activity, however, this one swelled out of control and destroyed (estimated) 23 million to as many as 55 million lives.  And the reasons for the exacerbation, though complicated and highly convoluted, stem primarily from the policies and actions of the country's Government at the time. Accounts of what happened and why, range from the scientific to the political to the emotional.  The accounts (particularly the one linked as "emotional") are sobering. 

A recurring theme among these historical accounts is a lack of transparency and a seemingly deliberate ignorance of reality that prevents leaders from seeing, let alone understanding, the problems and potential solutions.  I won't dwell on the details, but I will share the following from the article from linked above:

"According to one study, China experienced some 1,828 major famines in its long history, but what distinguishes the Great Leap Forward from its predecessors are its cause, massive scope, and ongoing concealment. In his recent study of famine, Cormac Ó Gráda suggests that, historically, famines emerged from natural phenomena, sometimes exacerbated by human activity. Modern famines, on the other hand, stem from human factors such as war or ideology exacerbated by natural conditions."

Such was the case in the 1950s-60s China. Like I wrote here many times during the recent COVID-19 Pandemic, building disaster-resistant communities is so much more than just moving (or raising) infrastructure.  It's as much about people.  How we interact, how we treat each other, and how we plan ahead for potential problems is critical to helping preserve our lives and livelihoods.  We need to demand a responsive government with an open mind to keep the best interests of their citizens in mind.


To assist the hungry today, please consider donating to a charity like this one

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Telling It Like It Is

Please allow me a brief personal diversion into a topic that I feel quite strongly about.  I don't mean to disparage any particular academic or researcher, so I won't divulge specifically the source of these sentences, but please read the following that crossed my desk in a scientific article recently:

Unsafe conditions (exposure to hazards) are shaped through a series of disaster risk drivers generated from processes, priorities, resource allocation and production–consumption patterns that result from different socio-economic development models. In essence, disaster risk drivers emanate from the ways the basic goals and parameters for growth and societal definitions of development are established and implemented.

I believe what the authors were saying could have been more simply stated, perhaps like this:

Because social and economic conditions vary by community, we expect to see each have their own unique priorities, different patterns of production and consumption, goals for resource allocation, and patterns of physical growth and development. These characteristics, in turn, contribute to unique exposures to hazards or risks that must be addressed.

Without having completed the original research, I'm only interpreting the writers' intent.  And as you'll see in reading entries in this blog I'm as guilty as anyone for resorting to imprecise, jargon-clouded language.  But my point is that we should all try to find ways to say what's needed in a manner that is more easily understood by all.

"The Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed on October 13, 2010. The law requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use."  The Federal government's web site addressing this law includes a number of guides, helpful hints, and even some humorous examples to illustrate the need for the use of plain language in all government documents and records.

When it comes to the topic of hazard mitigation and resiliency in communities, where citizens and government officials need to be "on the same page" with the scientists and engineers, it goes well beyond simple "best practice."  When addressing natural hazards and preparing for potential impact on human activities, clear communication is absolutely critical and can save lives.

It's not just external (community) communication either.  There are real benefits for scientists and researchers themselves to adopt a more "plain language" approach for all technical writing--even among peers.  Lily Whiteman, a contributor to the Washington Post and a senior writer for the National Science Foundation, shares the following:

Plain language is one of our best tools for improving scientific literacy and encouraging wise decision-making by the public on science-based issues. It is important for scientists to use plain language not only to reach the public; but also to reach one another. Indeed, scientific information conveyed in plain language invariable reaches bigger scientific audiences than information conveyed in technical language. Evidence of this includes the following:

A recent study showed that medical articles reported in The New England Journal of Medicine and then reported in The New York Times receive about 73 percent more citations in medical reports than do articles not reported in The New York Times.

The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine is a nationally successful journal with the best readership growth trend and advertising growth trend in its market. But The Cleveland Clinic Journal wasn’t always so successful. Until the mid-1990s, it was a forgettable, low circulation journal. How did the editors of The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine dramatically increase their readership? By replacing their journal’s dense, long-winded, jargon-filled style with an alternative style that incorporates the principles of plain language.

The quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

I couldn't have said it better. Or more clearly. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

"Baltimore will take care of its own, thank you"

The year was 1904.  

What began as a small fire in the basement of the Hurst Building in Baltimore soon spread to nearby buildings and, fanned by high winds and dry conditions, soon became a legendary conflagration that wiped out or severely damaged an estimated 2,500 buildings spanning dozens of city blocks. For over a century, it was considered the third worst urban fire in US history (behind the Great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871).  Damage was estimated at over $4 billion in today's dollars and 35,000 people were left unemployed. 

 A descendant of one of the fire fighters who documented the fire's cause, progress, and legacy, posted a well-researched history and numerous photos (including those on this page) HERE.  An eyewitness wrote:  

Tongue fails, pen is inadequate, mind refuses to comprehend the extent of the disaster,but, some idea of the size of the district which has been swept may be gathered when it is stated that it includes more than 175 acres of ground—all of it in the heart of the business section.

Miraculously, no deaths were officially reported as a result of the fire, though evidence has been uncovered that there were at least one or two reports of loss of life. Local leaders addressed the emergency in a holistic way, utilizing a large number of firefighters from neighboring states and municipalities.

In addition to firefighters, outside police officers, as well as the Maryland National Guard and the Naval Brigade, were utilized during the fire to maintain order and protect the city. Police and soldiers not only kept looters away, but also prevented civilians from inadvertently interfering with firefighting efforts. The Naval Brigade secured the waterfront and waterways to keep spectators away. Officers from Philadelphia and New York also assisted the City Police Department.


The most interesting parts of this story are the reasons for the dramatic spreading of the flames and the resilience the City and its leaders demonstrated throughout the ordeal and afterward.  So why did the fire spread so quickly? Even given the poor weather that exacerbated the spread of the flames, the reasons were the same as those commonly heard after other urban fires at the time, and for many similar fires in less developed metropolises today:

Close living quarters; lax, unenforced, or non-existent building codes; and a widespread dearth of firefighting services were all contributing factors to the frequency and extent of urban fires. The rapid expansion of American cities during the nineteenth century also contributed to the danger.  

In addition, firefighting practices and equipment were largely un-standardized, with each city having its own system. As time passed, these cities invested more in the systems that they already had, increasing the costs of any conversion. In addition, early equipment was often patented by its manufacturer. By 1903 (for instance), over 600 sizes and variations of fire hose couplings existed in the United States. (The correction of this problem was one of the most valuable outcomes of this expensive tragedy.)

For Baltimore, the fire was a turning point in the development of building codes and standards.  Shortly after the fire, the local paper recorded a statement by the City's Mayor Robert McLane and his outright refusal to accept outside assistance:

"To suppose that the spirit of our people will not rise to the occasion is to suppose that our people are not genuine Americans. We shall make the fire of 1904 a landmark not of decline but of progress... As head of this municipality, I cannot help but feel gratified by the sympathy and the offers of practical assistance which have been tendered to us. To them I have in general terms replied, 'Baltimore will take care of its own, thank you.'"

And they did.  "Baltimore finally adopted a city building code after seventeen nights of hearings and multiple City Council reviews. The city's downtown 'Burnt District' was rebuilt using more fireproof materials, such as granite pavers. Public pressure, coupled with demands of companies insuring the newly re-built buildings, spurred the effort."

Just two years after the blaze, the Baltimore Sun reported that "the city had risen from the ashes and that one of the great disasters of modern time had been converted into a blessing."  How did that happen?  An introduction to a collection of materials about the fire on file Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library includes the following explanation:

Baltimore City officials and the State of Maryland were quick to respond in the aftermath of the fire. The Citizens' Relief Committee (CRC) and BDC were each established by an act of the Maryland General Assembly and put at the disposal of Mayor Robert M. McLane. The CRC was given a fund of $250,000 to disburse for the immediate relief of those individual citizens who had lost property in the fire. Financial aid came in from around the country as well.

It is testament to the resilience of Baltimoreans that only a mere $23,000 was spent. The BDC set to work creating and implementing plans to clear away debris and rubble and to clear and widen streets and rebuild and open public spaces. It took three years to do it, but they played a significant role in helping Baltimore get back on its feet to thrive and flourish as a bustling metropolis once more.



Lahaina, Maui in the State of Hawaii.  

Lahaina, a former whaling town that evolved into a major tourist attraction, was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the historic district was placed on the National Register in 1962.  But on August 8th, a brush fire was reported east of the historic city. A variety of sources summarized HERE, continue the story:

The wildfire rapidly grew in both size and intensity. Wind gusts pushed the flames through the northeastern region of the community, where dense neighborhoods were. Hundreds of homes burned in a matter of minutes, and residents identifying the danger attempted to flee in vehicles while surrounded by flames. As time progressed, the fire moved southwest and downslope towards the Pacific coast and Kahoma neighborhood. Firefighters were repeatedly stymied in their attempts to defend structures by failing water pressure in fire hydrants; as the melting PVC pipes in burning homes leaked, the network lost pressure despite the presence of working backup generators.

Residents rushed to flee the old town, with its tinder-ready wooden structures.  Some ran into the ocean to escape the flames.  But the evacuation was delayed and slow.

Officials said that civil defense sirens were not activated during the fire even though Hawaii has the world's largest integrated outdoor siren warning system, with over 80 sirens on Maui alone meant to be used in cases of natural disasters. Several residents later told journalists that they had received no warning and did not know what was happening until they encountered smoke or flames. There had been no power or communications in Lahaina for much of the day, and authorities issued a confusing series of social media alerts which reached a small audience.

To-date, the death toll stands at 115 persons.  Estimates of damage range, so far, between $3.2 and $5.5 billion.  Last week, Governor Josh Green delivered an address to mark the date one month "since flames tore through historic Lahaina town, leaving at least 115 people dead and razing more than 2,200 structures. In addition to the unthinkable death toll, the fire has devastated Maui’s economy and left 7,500 displaced.  In an address Friday from his ceremonial room, Green said that Hawaii continues to grieve with families who have lost loved ones. He also offered an update on the number of missing, saying that number now stands at 66 — down from 385 last week and more than 3,000 originally."

Watching media accounts of the Maui fires as they raged, I couldn't help but compare and contrast this situation to that of Baltimore in 1904--albeit in a very different environment. The story was familiar.  There were physical contributing factors (weather) and a population center occupying structures made of primarily flammable materials.  There were local leaders struggling to deal with an ongoing emergency and then trying to settle post-fire investigations and finger pointing.  Unlike Baltimore, there was little available help from surrounding communities and states as the fire raged.  The Federal government stepped in, but well after the worst had passed.

My conclusion is a simple one, but one I hope to see play out well for the historic town, the state and for the survivors of the tragedy.  Local and state leaders are at a crossroads, not unlike Baltimore in 1904.  Whether they accept responsibility and lead their own recovery like Baltimore's leaders did, or whether politics continues to tie their hands and delay the healing of their community, is up to them.  

Ultimately, however, like the Baltimore Sun reported 115 years ago, I hope that news media in Hawaii will one day soon be reporting that "the city has risen from the ashes and that one of the great disasters of modern time had been converted into a blessing."



For a fascinating presentation on the history of fires (including Baltimore) and the changes in fire codes they brought about, click here

The youthful mayor of Baltimore during the fire died shortly after the fire, under mysterious circumstances. Story here.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Limits of Technology and Policy: Taking the Initiative

I remember reading an account of the events of the Titanic disaster in 1912 when, during the trials and hearings that followed the tragic sinking of the “unsinkable” ship, a shipping officer was asked why there were not sufficient lifeboats for the entire host of passengers and crew.  The response was, essentially, that the ship had the legally required number of lifeboats, but it was clearly not enough for all passengers—even if they had been launched successfully (many were not) and filled to capacity (again, many were not).

I thought of this as I read a book titled “Ghosts of the Tsunami” by Richard Lloyd Parry, a correspondent for the Times of London, based in Tokyo.  Shortly after the massive earthquake and devastating tsunami that hit northeastern Japan in 2011 and killed an estimated 22,000 people, he spent a great deal of time interviewing survivors of some of the areas most affected by the tragedy.  The book relates heart-wrenching, personal accounts of families who lost loved ones—particularly those of the 74 children (of 108) lost at Okawa Elementary School. Like the victims of the Titanic, many of the deaths that fateful day were attributed to insufficient, outdated policies or practices.

In a landmark article on the “lessons learned” from the tragedy, Japanese scientists Shunichi Koshimura and Nobuo Shuto describe the events as follows:

At least 50min elapsed after the earthquake before the tsunami attacked (Okawa Elementary School). After the strong ground shaking had stopped and the tsunami warning had been issued, the teachers and pupils gathered on school grounds to discuss where to evacuate to. They had two options. One option was a hill with a steep slope behind the school, which looked difficult for small children to climb. The other was a small overlook at the river bridge, 200m away from the school. Consequently, teachers decided to head for the bridge, walking along the river. Shortly thereafter, the tsunami penetrated along the river and overtopped the riverbank, sweeping away pupils and teachers.

The scientists (and, according to author Parry, the court verdict that followed) determined that, while the accepted practices and procedures for dealing with the events were rigidly followed, common sense should have prevailed and teachers should have prepared for the worst.  Parry contrasts the experience of another local school, as do the scientists Koshimura and Shuto in their research article, saying:

The  so-called ‘Miracle  of  Kamaishi’  is  very  good  practice  by  school  children  who  took  the  initiatives for  a community’s evacuation in Unosumai, Kamaishi city, Iwate prefecture. In Unosumai, students of Kamaishi East Junior High School immediately ran out of the school to higher ground after the earthquake. Their very quick and resolute response prompted local residents and even the students and  teachers  in  a  neighbouring  elementary  school  to  follow  and  consequently  saved lots of lives. The response of Kamaishi East Junior High School students was based on the three principles of evacuation taught by Prof. Toshitaka Katada of Gumma University. He told the students not to trust hazard maps, to make their best efforts in any situation, and to take the initiative of evacuation in the community. These principles are now highly valued as one of best practice/outcome of disaster education. The response capabilities the children learned at school helped them to overcome a disaster that exceeded all worst-case scenarios.

Koshimura and Shuto call what happened after the Tsunami a “paradigm shift” for regional planner, engineers and government leaders.  The lessons learned regarding the insufficiency of the accepted policies and practices surrounding Tsunami disaster preparedness and response are carefully described in their article. They include policies, training, public communication improvements, and significant changes to physical barriers and other engineered mitigation devices—many of which are still being constructed.  And, while the actual effectiveness of those far-reaching changes has (thankfully) yet to be tested in actuality, the computer modeling applied by the authors and others is quite promising. Among them are the following (images from the article):

On tsunami hazard maps, knowing which areas are at risk is critical, but one must also recognize the predictive limits of science and technology; hazard maps cannot always accurately predict areas at risk.

Prefectural and local governments have developed their own recovery and reconstruction plans, which require 10 years to be completed (National budget is allocated for the first 5 years). These plans consist of the combination of structural prevention/mitigation, urban planning, preparedness and provide suggestions for land-use management, relocation, housing reconstruction and tsunami disaster mitigation plans. The key role of academia, from the engineering point of view, is to verify and evaluate if these plans will really work for future disaster reduction.

Coastal infrastructure such as breakwaters and seawalls cannot always protect life and property: even great seawalls can fail…. High rise RC buildings with robust columns and walls can withstand tsunami flow depths over 2m and can be used for vertical evacuation. However, at the time, at least eight RC or steel construction buildings have been found overturned or washed away. This fact led to a revision of the requirement for structural design of tsunami evacuation buildings, specifically focusing on the tsunami loading effect. School buildings should have similar construction requirements, in order to ensure children’s safety.

Lastly, public education is the most important part of tsunami disaster management. Prof. Katada’s three principles: not to trust hazard maps (recognize the predictive limits), make the best efforts in any situation and take the initiative of evacuation in a community; these are highly recommended attitudes to overcome a disaster that exceeds all worst-case scenarios.

Finally, following my reading of Mr. Parry’s deeply haunting book on the subject, I found myself going through Google Earth images of the devastated areas of Tohoku.  Following the path of the Kitakami river, north of Sendai, I noted the banks of the river—even miles inland—are cleared of development. Wide brown swaths of emptiness still exist—12 years after the event—where there were once businesses, villages and farms.  The tan nothingness contrasts with the rich green of the forested mountains.  I zoomed in and panned across the banks of the river until I noticed only a single structure remained. Upon entering “street view” and reading the sign on what appeared to be a memorial in front of the building, my heart sank: “Ōkawa Shōgakkō” (Okawa Elementary School).  The school still stands as a lone tribute to the lives lost.  While the building withstood the onslaught of water, it was completely submerged and all who remained in or near it were killed or are still missing.

Even in a country that is the world-renown example of disaster preparedness, there is still much to do. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Can Extreme Climate Mitigation Inhibit Resiliency?

In a recent Facebook post, Bjorn Lomborg, Danish environmentalist and author of a number of books on climate issues, shares the following statistical fact:

Fewer and fewer people die from climate-related natural disasters.  This is even true of 2022 — despite breathless climate reporting, about 98% fewer people died in 2022 than a hundred years ago from climate-related natural disasters like floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures.  Why is this consistently not reported?

Over the past hundred years, annual climate-related deaths have declined by more than 96%. In the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,362 dead per year, or 96.2% lower.

In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the number of dead was even lower at 14,885 — 96.9% lower than the 1920s average.  For 2021, the death count was even lower at 7,705 or 98.4% lower. For 2022, which is now complete, we see a continuation of this very low number of deaths: 11,873 or 97.6% lower than the 1920s average.

You heard a lot about some deadly climate catastrophes in 2022, but actually the top two deadliest, you probably haven't even heard about.  2,465 died in Uganda in a July famine, and 2,035 died in from heavy rains in India over the summer. Pakistan's monsoon floods are third at 1,739 dead. The total list of deadly disasters has 219 more entries, all catastrophes, all terrible. And yet, in summation much, much lower than what it used to be.

All of these catastrophes are measured by the most respected global database, the International Disaster Database . There is some uncertainty about complete reporting from the early decades, which is why this graph starts in 1920, and if anything this uncertainty means the graph *underestimates* the reduction in deaths.

Also note, the database has big problems with heat and cold deaths, where there is much more reporting on heat deaths (which it erratically includes), but globally, cold deaths outweigh heat deaths 9:1  

That climate deaths are becoming much rarer is clearly the opposite of what you hear, but that is because we're often just being told of one disaster after another – telling us how *many* events are happening. The number of reported events is increasing, but that is mainly due to better reporting, lower thresholds, and better accessibility (the CNN effect). For instance: For Denmark, the database only shows events starting from 1976.

Instead, look at the number of dead per year, which is much harder to fudge. Given that these numbers fluctuate enormously from year to year (especially in the past, with huge droughts and floods in China, India, and elsewhere), they are here presented as averages of each decade (1920-29, 1930-39 etc.).

If we look at the absolute number of people dying from climate-related disasters, it is simply incontrovertible that these have declined dramatically. This is because richer and more resilient societies are much better able to protect their citizens 

Notice, this does *not* mean that there is no global warming or that possibly a climate signal could eventually lead to further deaths. Global warming is a real problem that we should fix smartly.  But panic from bad media reporting, scaring kids and adults alike, does not help us be smart.

This graph shows us that our increased wealth and increased adaptive capacity has vastly overshadowed any potential negative impact from climate when it comes to human climate vulnerability.

This is an update of my graph in my 2020 peer-reviewed article which you can read for free here.  

In the landmark article cited in the first line above, the author notes the continued challenge of adapting to, and building resiliency against non-climate events like earthquakes.  Better building codes and location decisions can help, and the same economic improvements that are reducing climate-related deaths will contribute similar benefits.  The article concludes with the following:

Global warming is real and long-term has a significant, negative impact on society. Thus, we should weigh policies to make sure we tackle the negative impacts without ending up incurring more costs by engaging in excessively expensive climate policies. We cannot and must not do nothing. But the evidence also manifestly alerts us to the danger that we end up with too ambitious and overly costly climate policies, and a general outlook that puts the world on a growth path that will deliver dramatically less welfare, especially for the world's poorest.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

It’s Time to Refocus. And Do So Quickly!

Haunting, gut-wrenching images have appeared in worldwide media since last weekend’s horrific dual earthquakes in Turkey and Syria that devastated entire cities and leveled block after block of housing and businesses.  To-date, over 11,000 people are dead, but officials fear the toll will go higher. Much higher. And then there were these photographs.

Aljazeera reports that the photographs above from their post depict “a father holding the hand of his teenage daughter who died trapped under the rubble of a flattened building in the Turkish region of Kahramanmaras.”  The article continues, saying: “Sitting amid the rubble, Mesut Hancer held on to his 15-year-old daughter’s hand which was all that showed from under the slabs of concrete piled above her lifeless body”

Videos of entire city blocks collapsing into rubble while helpless bystanders run for their lives are circulating on social media. The devastation extends as far as any camera can see in all directions. It is so overwhelming, that it fills those who see it—even from the comfort and safety of a living room a continent away—with deep sense of hopelessness. The looks on the faces of the injured and the homeless are of utter despair and emptiness.

These photos hit a nerve in me.  And I believe they should in all of us. We help where we can, our governments supply aid, but the answer must be bigger and more long-lasting. The events of the weekend should renew our resolve to make a difference and rekindle the spark of inspiration that made me start this blog in the first place. That's how this news affected me.

As a parent, seeing these photos made me reach out to my family members and simply tell them I love them. The news of this shocking, heartbreaking event should remind us all that we’re all members of a single human family and that somehow we should share each other’s burdens.  Beyond that, I felt the need to refocus myself professionally (to reconsider what I can do as a single person with my unique skill set to help make a difference) and spiritually (to renew my faith and hope in a better world for all).  The latter I’ll address elsewhere, but I’d like to expound on the former.

Refocusing to Make a Difference

Almost ten years ago, I started this blog with my first entry that included the following statement:

I’ve lived in a number of places that have seen significant damage to shelter and infrastructure, as well as loss of life during natural disasters in recent years.... Hearing about them or watching them unfold, I have often felt a strong, visceral and emotional sense of personal loss.  My response is always the same.  I ask myself: “Couldn’t someone have done more to prevent such widespread damage to life and property? Is there something I can do to keep this from happening?”

There are significant efforts underway by governments, NGOs and others worldwide to plan for effective responses to disasters.  The United Nations, for example, sponsors a Making Cities Resilient program to “advocate widespread commitment by local governments to build resilience to disasters and increased support by national governments to cities for the purpose of strengthening local capacities.”

Besides disaster response, these organizations also help keep provide information on the best means to create resilient cities and town in terms of sustainability, adapting to the effects of climate change, reducing energy consumption, mitigating the impact of economic decline, etc.  All are worth consideration, and all require our attention. 

My professional experience has brought me to a somewhat more specific area of interest, an area where I might be able to help make a difference.  My career has been centered on implementing physical and geographical solutions to development issues—deciding what facilities and improvements are needed by a population, where the new structures should go, and how they should be configured and constructed to make them the most successful and, in the context of this discussion, the least vulnerable.

Climate scientists probe glaciers for clues to what has been and what may be. But at the same time, these same people understand that even if we are able to reverse the current trends, it will take time. We should be preparing for the inevitable. We need to adapt. We need to modify our buildings, our lifestyles, and our expectations to better meet the physical demands of living on a changing Earth.

“Out of Harm’s Way” is the title of this blog and helping keep our homes and communities safe from natural events was the original impetus behind it all.  In the last ten years, I’ve published nearly 150 posts outlining critical benchmarks, standards and exemplary activities that countries and communities have implemented to help do just that.  It’s time to revisit those posts and refocus our efforts on making a difference in the most vulnerable places--then to highlight new solutions, policies and technologies that can help create safer places to live for everyone.

Watch this space!


Friday, September 30, 2022

“Flooding happens, but flooded buildings don’t have to happen”


The title quote belongs to Roderick Scott, a Certified Floodplain Manager and a long-time resident of Mandeville, Louisiana.  In a post by the National Institute of Building Sciences earlier this year, Scott reviewed the efforts taken in his town to mitigate what had been a long history of flood damage from frequent hurricanes.  Ultimately, he reports the following significant progress:

Hurricane Isaac (2012) and Hurricane Ida (2021) also brought 9-foot storm surges. However, thanks to the community’s efforts to mitigate buildings, just look at the progress, in terms of flood claims: 

  • Katrina (2005) – 750 NFIP claims for $25 million
  • Isaac (2012) – 250 NFIP claims for $7.5 million
  • Ida (2021) – no NFIP claim data yet, but only 59 documented occupied flooded buildings

I have a saying: “Flooding happens, but flooded buildings don’t have to happen.”

More information here (also the source of the photo)