"Improved" flood forecasts are themselves insufficient to reduce flood losses. As Gilbert White noted in 1939, "a forecast is of no value unless those who receive it are prepared to act promptly and efficiently." Further, a forecast that is "inadequate," meaning either mistaken, misleading, or misused, "may cause more loss than if there had been no forecast at all." Thus, improved flood forecasting requires success on two fronts: the technical aspects, where information is generated, and the choices that are made by those who use this information.
The North Central River Forecast Center issues two types of forecast products for this basin. A numerical outlook is issued one to two months prior to the expected peak flooding, typically in early-March. Such a long lead time is possible largely because most large-scale floods in the basin are the result of snowmelt, not rainfall. Operational forecasts are issued periodically in the weeks prior to and following peak flooding and are the product of a hydrologic modeling system.
When the flood outlooks are issued, two numbers are presented for the expected river stage for each forecast location. One is based on a scenario of average temperature and no subsequent precipitation, the other on average temperature and average precipitation (i.e., "normal" climate). For East Grand Forks, the outlooks issued in mid-February 1997 were for 47.5 and 49 feet.
In interviews conducted in May 1997 with various decision makers in the flooded region, it was clear that different people interpreted the flood stage outlooks in different ways. Some viewed the two numbers as a range, i.e., that the maximum flood stage would be between 47.5 and 49 feet. Others viewed the higher number as a maximum; for example, on April 8, 1997, the Grand Forks Herald reported that NWS "experts are still forecasting a maximum 49-foot crest at East Grand Forks." Others viewed the flood outlook as exact, i.e., "the crest will be 49 feet." Still others viewed it as somewhat uncertain; believing it could vary one to six feet above or below the outlook level.
Which perception might have been correct is not known because NWS flood outlooks do not include any quantitative information regarding uncertainty. A qualita-tive disclaimer is included with the outlook that warns of uncertainty. Looking back at East Grand Forks crest data, the actual crest equaled or exceeded the "normal" level outlook in six of the 12 years outlooks were issued, and, at East Grand Forks, in four of 12 years the "normal" crest outlook was off by more than 10% of the outlook value.
When decision makers ascribe uncertainty to the forecasts, this can potentially introduce a number of pathologies to the decision process, including: misplaced responsibility for flood fight decision making, misunderstandings of the uncertainty associated with forecasts, potential over-confidence in forecasts, inability of the forecasting community to develop appropriate justifications for improvements to (or maintenance of) forecast products, and obstacles to effective preparation for and response to the flood event. Final determination of the extent to which these occurred in, or resulted from, the flooding in the Red River of the North Basin in 1997 awaits further study. Nevertheless, the way decision makers in the region interpreted the flood outlooks affected the actions they took in preparing for the flood.
Little attention has been paid to the manner in which flood forecasts are interpreted by decision makers, and subsequently, how this information is incorporated into decisions. In short, the use and value of existing flood forecast products is not well understood, much less the potential increased usefulness and value that might be attained through "improving" the products and manner in which they are delivered. Other recent experience suggests that this circumstance may be fairly common beyond the Red River of the North Basin (see Changnon, 1996).
Effective use of flood forecasts cannot be attained by simply providing "more information," such as confidence intervals or exceedance probabilities. If decision makers have difficulty using existing products, these difficulties will not go away simply by providing more or "better" information. More attention must be paid to how forecasts are issued, who actually receives what information, and with what effect. Several recent studies suggest that as the amount of information available for decision increases, the judgment process may actually become less reliable, especially in contexts of high uncertainty such as flood forecasting. As a result, decision making skill can decrease as the amount of information increases (see Stewart et al., 1992).
The Advanced Hydrological Prediction System (AHPS), initially being implemented by the NWS in the Des Moines River Basin, provides an opportunity to learn more about how decision makers perceive and use flood forecast information. Decision makers in the basin were sent a questionnaire about their information needs. The results of this first AHPS implementation need to be closely evaluated regarding use of information. If successful, the AHPS may provide a model that can be used in other basins.
Roger Pielke, Jr., Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, National Center for Atmospheric Research
The author can be contacted at PO Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000; e-mail: email@example.com
Changnon, S.A., ed.. 1996. The Great Flood of 1993: Causes, Impacts, and Responses. Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado.
Fread, D.L., R.C. Shedd, G.F. Smith, R. Farnsworth, C.N. Hoffeditz, L.A. Wenzel, S.M. Wiele, J.A. Smith, and G.N. Day. 1995. "Modernization in the National Weather Service River and Flood Program," Weather and Forecasting 10:477-484.
Stewart, T., W.R. Moninger, K.F. Heideman, and P. Reagan-Cirincione. 1992. "Effects of Improved Information on the Components of Skill in Weather Forecasting," Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 53:107-134.
White, G.F. 1939. "Economic Aspects of Flood-Forecasting," American Geophysical Union Transactions, 20:218-233.
The network is seeking working relationships and partnerships with organizations and groups in and out of the Red River Valley to generate resources and identify research needed to address social problems arising both from the disaster and from the economics of recovery.
If you or your organization would like to explore partnership or collaboration with this group, or if you would like to learn more about the Community Redevelopment and Research Network, contact Clifford L. Staples, Department of Sociology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND 58202; (701) 777-4417; fax: (701) 777-2468; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water and Disasters . . .
The conference will take place from mid-September to mid-October 1997 on the Internet using electronic mail and the World Wide Web.
Key policy-making institutions and eminent specialists will contribute. Thus the conference will help to link people and organizations with similar concerns, since it will bring together professionals from local, national, regional, and international bodies in developed and developing countries--all with different perspectives on water-related disasters. It will also allow participants to post announcements regarding related events, projects, or initiatives and thereby stimulate bilateral networking among conference participants.
Conference participation is free. Most presentations will be in English, with some in Spanish.
The UNEP initiative gives the industry its own voice on climate change and other important global environmental issues, and insurance companies of all kinds (life, health, property, etc.) are invited to participate. For more information, contact UNEP, Environment, Trade, and Investment Unit, Geneva Executive Center, C.P. 356, CH-1219 Geneva, Switzerland; fax: (41-22) 796-9240.
[Adapted from the Network Newsletter - a publication of the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, National Center for Atmospheric Research]
The first seminar of the program series, "Our Communities and Hazards," was offered in May. Upcoming seminars include (dates tentative):
In addition, a new graduate-level course "Vulnerability Analysis" is being offered this fall through the Department of Construction Management at Florida International University. This course will complement "Topics in Hazard Mitigation," which was introduced in 1995 and which is also being taught this fall. Both of these courses are offered to students pursuing a Master's degree in Construction Management, and both are offered by videotape through the FEEDS (Florida Engineering Education Delivery System) program to locations anywhere in the U.S.
For details about the International Hurricane Center's education programs, contact Ricardo A. Alvarez, International Hurricane Center, Florida International University, University Park Campus, Miami, FL 33199; (305) 438-1607; fax: (305) 348-1605; e-mail: email@example.com; or, firstname.lastname@example.org; WWW: http://www.fiu.edu/~hurrican/. Persons interested in the videotape program should contact Mercy Rueda; (305) 348-2801.
Natural Disaster Reduction summarizes existing federal research programs dealing with hazards and identifies promising approaches that federal agencies might undertake to reduce disasters' toll. It calls for three major policy shifts in the nation's approach to disasters: 1) anticipating and assessing risk; 2) focusing on comprehensive mitigation that builds resilience; and 3) implementing warning and dissemination systems that permit resilience. To support these goals, the plan identifies four areas of needed research: 1) better understanding of the character of the hazards themselves; 2) improved risk assessment; 3) holistic understanding of the socioeconomic factors driving societal vulnerability and the full range of strategies available to improve mitigation; and 4) improved use of new information technologies to disseminate warnings and provide information on disaster reduction. Finally, in coordination with existing programs, such as the National Mitigation Strategy, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, and the modernization of the National Weather Service, the plan calls for new efforts, including a National Risk Assessment and an Integrated Natural Disaster Mitigation Information Network.
Natural Disaster Reduction is now available via the World Wide Web at http://www.usgs.gov/sndr/report. Individual copes of this 50-page report are also available from William Hooke, National Weather Research Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, SSMCIII, Room 11360, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; (301) 713-0460, ext. 218; fax: (301) 713-0666; e-mail: email@example.com.
The goal of PPP 2000 is to seek new and innovative opportunities for government and nongovernment partners to work together to reduce losses from and vulnerability to natural hazards. One of the group's principal means of doing this will be a series of forums on public policy issues affecting natural disaster reduction. In each forum the partnership will seek a wide range of ideas and opinions in order to identify common agendas and determine ways to resolve scientific, technical, economic, and policy issues to reduce disasters. The aim is to improve risk assessment, risk management, and emergency response.
The first forum, hosted by IBHS, will introduce concepts and a framework that will be common to all subsequent forums. All PPP 2000 forums will be held in Washington, D.C.; the first two are: Natural Disaster Reduction Initiatives of the Insurance Sector--September 10, 1997 (host: IBHS); and The Uncertainty of Managing Catastrophic Risks--December 11, 1997 (host: Catastrophic Risk Management Project, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania).
Additional forums will address such topics as cities at risk, a domestic and international broadcast media partnership to support natural disaster reduction, reduction of earthquake vulnerability in California: 1998-2003, assisting communities to deal with vulnerability to natural hazards, global perspectives on natural disasters, a disaster recovery business alliance, real-time monitoring and warning for natural hazards, natural hazards safety and reliability of utility and transportation systems, grass roots mitigation awareness and education, a national risk assessment, and demonstration studies for natural disaster reduction.
For more information about the PPP 2000 project, contact the
Institute for Business and Home Safety, 73 Tremont Street, Suite 510,
Boston, MA 02108-3910; (617) 722-0200; fax: (617) 722-0202; WWW: http://www.iiplr.org; or Walt
Hays, U.S. Geological Survey, 955 National Center, Reston, VA 20192; (703)
648-6711; fax: (703) 648-6747; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Communication/Information Initiatives . . .
In the broadest sense, the board is seeking to build intellectual bridges between disaster managers and the information technology research community. Hence, anyone--particularly emergency management professionals--wanting to be informed about CSTB plans in this area should send his or her name, organizational affiliation, address, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail address to the board: fax: (202) 334-2318; e-mail: email@example.com.
Moreover, anyone who can identify operational needs that are not being met by today's information technology is asked to contact the board and let the NRC know what those needs are. Stated differently, the board is asking, "What is your wish list? What information technology would you want to have during a crisis?"
ERLink offers key organizations a way to share information electronically, simplifying disaster response planning and operations. It employs a collection of communications protocols, information structures, and software that use World Wide Web technology for data sharing. Thus, ERLink provides a simple "point and click" method of retrieving all sorts of information, from text, to graphics, to databases, to modeling tools.
ERLink is a controlled access Web site that allows Federal Response Plan partners to both obtain and post information. The system is currently being tested by several federal agencies to determine if ERLink can truly support the community's information requirements. To obtain more information about ERLink, contact program manager John O'Connor; (703) 607-6130; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Adapted from Aware Report, Spring 1997, a newsletter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]
The director of the center, Steven J. Rottman, has stated that the center's objectives will include:
This effort is the first significant collaboration between a major educational institution--the UCLA School of Public Health--and a major local health agency--the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services--to address the effects of natural and human-generated disasters on public health.
For further information, contact Loc H. Nguyen, Program Coordinator, UCLA Center for Public Health and Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 951772, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1772; (310) 794-6646; fax: (310) 794-1805; e-mail: email@example.com.
Recognizing this problem, Green Cross UK, established in 1994 and based at Kingston University, is focusing on the prevention and mitigation of environmental damage due to disasters, and the group is establishing the Green Cross Disaster Response Network as one of its principal projects.
Funded by the European Commission and undertaken in collaboration with Kingston University and others, including the Oracle Corporation, the Disaster Response Network is intended to prevent or mitigate environmental damage following any catastrophe by providing accredited environmental experts to organizations responding to a disaster. The experts will go to the scene in the earliest stages, assess impacts, point out the environmental risks and associated humanitarian risks, evaluate needs, and recommend actions to mitigate or prevent further damage. The network will provide people who can also organize and execute those actions.
For practical and economic reasons, this project will probably use experts from the U.K. (or Western Europe) in its development and trials, although the aim is to provide a model for adoption globally. The network experts will need to have knowledge and expertise in several areas, including:
Besides experts who can assess and mitigate the environmental consequences of disasters, the network will also acquire, manage, and distribute information (including appropriate environmental impact assessment procedures, action plans, material lists, and equipment databases) that experts can draw upon during an emergency. Again, the overall aim is to avert unnecessary long-term damage to the environment.
Because the Environmental Response Network is just starting, the organizers are seeking information on previous work in this area--especially any assessment tools or plans that have already been developed. They are also still identifying the qualities, expertise, and experience, as well as the supporting information and tools, that network experts will need to succeed in particular environmental disaster situations. Finally, they are interested in learning about any earlier work to create a logical and manageable framework for managing and storing the large body of information concerning environmental disasters that this undertaking will require.
Any information, comments, or suggestions are welcome and should be addressed to Nicholas Fickling, Green Cross UK, Kingston University-Reg Bailey Building, Penrhyn Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE, U.K.; tel: +44 181 547 8274; fax: +44 181 547 7980, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com; WWW: http//www.kingston.ac.uk/~ad_s611/gc.h tm.
The Green Cross currently includes 16 national organizations worldwide, with many additional countries now preparing to join. All are linked to Green Cross International, founded by Mikhail Gorbachev in the wake of the Rio Summit and based in Geneva. Information about Green Cross International is available from the World Wide Web: http://www.gci.ch.
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