The earth sciences, backed by formidable arrays of data-gathering and processing technologies, now offer the apparently credible promise of predicting the future of nature. Policy makers, under pressure as always to deliver public benefit at low cost and even lower risk, have strong incentives to accept this promise as one response to environmental issues.
As part of the Science, Policy, and Outcomes Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, the authors are investigating the role of prediction in the making of environmental policies. Such policies relate to problems in planning for and responding to natural hazards (weather, floods, earthquakes, asteroids); planning for and responding to anthropogenic hazards (global climate change, acid rain, nuclear waste); managing natural resources (oil reserves, beaches); and regulating environmental impacts (mining).
We convened a workshop in Estes Park, Colorado, September 10-12, 1998 (along with our co-investigators, Roger Pielke, Jr., and Dale Jamieson), that brought together a diverse group of people involved in various ways with the process of prediction. Among the 35 participants were a scientist who works on climate models, the former emergency manager of a major California city, a banker from a coastal city that is subject to hurricanes, a seismologist, a rancher, a former official at the federal Office of Management and Budget, an engineer who works on nuclear waste isolation, and a coastal geologist who studies beach erosion. The goal of the workshop was to apply the collective wisdom of a range of stakeholders (including natural scientists who make predictions and social scientists who are concerned with their use) to the problem of how scientific predictions should be used (or not used) in the development of effective policies relating to natural hazards, natural resources, and the environment.
People listen to or read the morning weather report and then make a decision about clothing, accessories (umbrella? gloves? hat?), and mode of transport. This decision is backed by personal experience of weather and its local fluctuations, as well as a scientific and technical support infrastructure that in the U.S. issues on the order of 10 million weather predictions per year. These predictions, based in part on real-time observations of weather patterns, are aimed at providing the specific information that people need. The consequences of a poor prediction, or a poor decision based on a good prediction, are often modest--a wet shirt, perhaps a car skidding off the road--but, on rare occasions, severe--an airplane crash or failure to evacuate a town, for example. In any case, users have accumulated enough experience in comparing the prediction to the actual event to personally calibrate the weather prediction process.
Conversely, in other situations such personal experience is not possible. Members of Congress listen to testimony from scientists about nuclear waste disposal. Because radioactive waste remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, disposal systems must operate effectively for at least that long. The relevant science uses analogy, mathematical models, and extrapolation to predict events far in the future. Thus, there is no basis in personal experience for evaluating or calibrating the actual performance of the disposal systems or the science. Decisions must be based on abstractions. Action must be taken, but the consequences of a poor prediction, or a poor decision based on a good prediction, are potentially disastrous, both politically (a lost election) and societally (radionuclides leaking into groundwater or even reaching the atmosphere).
Decision making is forward looking, so the allure of prediction is strong. We look to predictions to help us make decisions that can mitigate or evade the impact of nature on society and of society on nature. In doing so, we need to recognize that prediction has become part of a complex decision-making process, a network of interrelationships that must function well across all of its connections if predictions are to serve society successfully. This integrated process involves policy makers (who solicit and pay for predictions), scientists (who make predictions), and decision makers (who use them--for everything from deciding whether to carry an umbrella to evacuating a city in the path of a hurricane; from establishing levels of insurance risk to negotiating an international environmental agreement).
The less frequent, less observable, less spatially discrete, more gradual, more distant in the future, and more severe a predicted phenomenon, the more difficult it is to accumulate direct experience. Where direct experience is sparse or lacking, other sources of societal understanding must be developed or the prediction process will not function effectively. Science alone does not create this understanding.
What is necessary above all is an institutional structure that allows policy makers, decision makers, and scientists to interact closely throughout the entire prediction process, so that each knows the needs and capabilities of the others. It is crucial that this process be open, participatory, and conducive to mutual respect. Efforts to shield expert research and decision making from public scrutiny and accountability invariably backfire and fuel distrust and counterproductive policies and decisions.
How can the prediction process foster sound decision making?
Even so, many types of predictions will never be understood by decision makers in the way that weather predictions are understood. Experience is important and cannot be replaced, but the prediction process can be facilitated in other ways, for example by being totally open about predictions, warts and all; and by fully considering alternative approaches to prediction, such as no regrets public policies, adaptation, and better planning and engineering.
When the prediction process is fostered by effective, participatory institutions, and when a healthy decision environment emerges from these institutions, the products of predictive science may even become less important. Earthquake prediction was once a policy priority; now it is considered technically infeasible, at least in the near future. But, in California, the close, institutionalized communication among scientists, engineers, state and local officials, and the private sector has led to considerable advances in earthquake preparedness and a much decreased dependence on prediction. On the other hand, in the absence of an integrated and open decision environment, the scientific merit of predictions can be rendered politically irrelevant, as has been seen with nuclear waste disposal and acid rain. That is, if there is no adequate decision environment for dealing with an event or situation, a scientifically successful prediction may be no more useful than an unsuccessful one.
These observations fly in the face of much current practice, where, typically, policy makers recognize a problem, scientists then do research to predict natural behavior associated with the problem, and predictions are finally delivered to decision makers with the expectation that they will be both useful and well-used. This sequence, which puts predictive research at the core of the decision environ- ment, rarely functions well in practice. In contrast, our work suggests that, for virtually every environmental problem, the key to effective decision making lies in improving the decision environment itself. Such improvement may come from cost-effective, politically realistic alternatives to prediction. The goal of the decision environment must be good decisions, not good predictions.
Daniel Sarewitz, Senior Research Scholar, Science, Policy, and Outcomes Project, Columbia University
Radford Byerly, Former Chief of Staff, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
For more information on this project, see http://www.dir.ucar.edu/esig/prediction/ on the World Wide Web.
This project is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Societal Dimensions of Engineering, Science, and Technology Program.
Most local officials have no personal experience dealing with disasters or disaster recovery, and they are often overwhelmed by the complex issues and decisions that follow. The Natural Hazards Center, with financial support from the Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI), is currently preparing a report and related products regarding the need, feasibility, form, content, timing, and operation of a Community Recovery Assistance Team Program to help local officials successfully manage postdisaster recovery. The project will explore the need for outside expert advice to help community officials avoid being overwhelmed by complex disaster recovery processes, address community impacts effectively, and capitalize on rebuilding opportunities. Among other possible benefits, such assistance could enable community officials to: 1) take decisive, informed action to restore key services and coordinate outside funding and other assistance; and 2) guide recovery activities to ensure consistency with the community's vision and objectives for long-term growth and disaster resiliency.
This project will develop a framework for creating teams of well-organized, experienced disaster professionals who could be mobilized to work directly with recovering communities. While such support might appear to be an obvious need, to our knowledge, technical assistance teams have been used only in a few instances. The initial phase of this project is a planning year that provides an opportunity to discuss the technical assistance needs of communities after disasters. Therefore, we would like the help of interested readers of the Observer. To successfully explore the Community Recovery Assistance Team concept, we need your input on the following questions:
1) What are the biggest problems facing communities during recovery from catastrophe?
2) In what areas could disaster recovery teams be of most help to communities?
3) Based on your experience with disasters, how could the teams most help communities integrate mitigation into recovery?
4) Based on your experience with disasters, how could the teams most help communities in terms of broader long-term recovery and sustainable redevelopment?
5) What types of persons should comprise the teams-- what discipline, experience, etc.?
6) Do you know of any instances in which outside technical assistance has been provided to communities during recovery?
7) Do you know of others who might have useful information and be willing to respond these questions?
Finally, please share additional comments on the program with us. For further information on this project or to respond to these questions, contact Jeanine Stevens, Natural Hazards Center, Campus Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-2149; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1997, in a major initiative to advance earthquake science, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded three centers across the U.S. to conduct and coordinate earthquake research for the nation (see the Observer, Vol. XX, No. 2, p. 19). The following is an update concerning one of those institutions--the Mid-America Earthquake Center. We will examine the other centers in future issues of the Observer.
The Mid-America Earthquake (MAE) Center was the only one of the three NSF-funded centers that was entirely new and not established in conjunction with an existing program. The MAE Center is a consortium of seven central- and eastern-U.S. academic institutions1, headquartered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The center's mission is to examine and mitigate problems associated with low-frequency, high-consequence seismic events east of the Rocky Mountains. Following a multidisciplinary approach, the MAE center carries out research within three major programs: transportation networks, essential facilities, and hazard evaluation. The center also supports active programs for education and outreach.
The MAE center is now fully staffed and entering its second year of operation. In addition to overseeing active projects in all five program areas, it is collaborating with the other two NSF-funded centers--the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) and the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center--in transportation, social science, and education studies.
An important MAE Center focus is the creation of links to business, industry, and government, and to further that goal, it has just established a program entitled "access2" to provide business, industry, and government direct input to the center's research programs and access to its research products, expertise, and students. Access2 is the first of three programs that will compose the MAE Center Business, Industry, and Government (B-I-G) Partnership Program, which will involve regional offices in Atlanta, Memphis, and St. Louis.
The best source of information about the Mid-America Earthquake Center is its Web site: http://mae.ce.uiuc.edu. The center also publishes a bimonthly newsletter; to subscribe or gain additional information, contact the MAE Center, 1241 Newmark Civil Engineering Lab, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 105 North Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801; (217) 244-6302; fax: (217) 333-3821; WWW: http://mae.ce.uiuc.edu.
The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), headquartered at the State University of New York at Buffalo, is spearheading an effort sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Region II office to build a consortium of organizations that will define and assess the vulnerability of the New York City metropolitan area to earthquake hazards.
Academic institutions; municipal, state, and federal emergency management agencies; public service organizations; and private corporations have been invited to participate in the consortium's activities. As seismic studies and a built environment inventory are developed for the metropolitan area, the consortium will try to foster local awareness by providing key groups with accurate vulnerability and loss estimation data as well as technical assistance regarding loss reduction.
MCEER is responsible for overall coordination of the project, which is overseen by a technical coordinator, an executive committee of representatives from some of the key participating agencies, and an external technical advisory board. For additional information about the consortium, contact Bruce Swiren, Earthquake and Hurricane Programs Manager, FEMA Region II, 26 Federal Plaza, Room 1337, New York, NY 10278-0002; (212) 225-7230; or Andrea Dargush, MCEER, State University of New York at Buffalo, Red Jacket Quadrangle, Buffalo, NY 14261-0025; (716) 645-3391; fax: (716) 645-3399; e-mail: email@example.com; WWW: http://mceer.buf falo.edu.
Financial losses due to natural catastrophes have increased dramatically in recent years because of rapid population growth in high-risk coastal areas, increased property values, and more frequent occurrence of severe storms, particularly hurricanes. At the same time, complete data regarding these losses have not been available or in a format easily accessible to researchers.
To assist the study of insured losses from catastrophic events, the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) has developed a catastrophe paid loss database, which provides more detailed loss data than that provided by the Property Claim Services (PCS) data used by many insurers and researchers.
PCS has provided information to insurers since 1949 about insured catastrophe losses. The organization estimates insured losses associated with catastrophic events--those that result in losses above $25 million. These estimates, issued shortly after an event occurs, are based on loss projections provided by insurers and post-event damage inspections by PCS representatives. However, because of the nature of the data, the detailed analyses that can be performed are somewhat limited.
By comparison, the IBHS database, which includes data for disaster losses from January 1994 to the present, uses actual claim payments as they occur over time to establish the ultimate insured cost of a catastrophe. The database provides the total loss estimate for each catastrophe and allows the data to be broken down by type of business loss; personal and commercial losses; building, contents, and time (e.g., business interruption) losses; and state, county, and zip code. The goal of this project is to create a better understanding of catastrophic losses and to provide a basis for research, mitigation, and public education.
A report on this data base was recently published by IBHS and can be obtained from Patty Hatch, IBHS, 175 Federal Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA 02110-222; (617) 292-2003, ext. 223; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information about the project, contact Greta Ljung at the address above or by calling (617) 292-2003, ext. 217, or by e-mailing email@example.com.
The United States is exposed to more types of natural disasters than any other nation, and America's children are among the most vulnerable to harm from these catastrophes.
Recognizing this problem, in December the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) launched Protecting Our Kids from Disasters, a national program to reduce the risk of natural disaster-related injury to children in approximately 93,000 child care centers in the United States. Supported by the insurance industry, IBHS is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce deaths, injuries, property damage, economic losses, and human suffering caused by natural disasters.
Over the next five to 10 years, volunteers from the insurance industry, as well as others interested in performing this important public service, will work with child care centers nationwide to implement nonstructural safety measures. These modifications will not only prevent minor mishaps but will also help the centers better withstand the effects of windstorms, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods, thus speeding recovery after a disaster.
More information about Protecting Our Kids from Disasters is available from Craig Horton, IBHS, 175 Federal Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA 02110-2222; (617) 292-2003, ext. 244; fax: (617) 292-2022; WWW: http://www.ibhs.org.
Mitigation planning to achieve disaster reduction and sustainable development is an objective strongly advanced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Taking its cue from FEMA, the state of Kentucky decided to make mitigation planning a goal for each of the 120 counties in the state. To accomplish this goal, state disaster management officials turned to the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky to aid the state hazard mitigation office in creating the Hazard Mitigation Adoption Program. In February 1998, an office was created within the Martin School, and a project administrator was hired.
The Martin School adopted a two-pronged approach: 1) develop outreach efforts to educate and inform decision makers and citizens about the need for mitigation planning, and 2) provide training and assistance in the development of those plans.
The project uses a variety of approaches to fulfill its mission. A series of focus group meetings is being conducted throughout the state to gather information about the range of opinions and experiences of community leaders. Information from these sessions will then be used to identify key issues and develop a strategy for public education and training in hazard mitigation. The first four meetings were useful in developing a hazard mitigation workshop, presented for the first time in late June.
We are currently producing a public service video, All Kentucky is at Risk, which will be made available to all public access television stations, libraries, civic groups, and county officials. The video emphasizes developing community responsibility and raising public awareness of the need for mitigation against our state's natural hazards. Floods and landslides are the two major hazards Kentuckians face, although we are also at risk from a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault. Tornadoes and winter storms have also caused substantial damage in the state within the last couple of years.
As part of this project, we established a Web page, http://www.uky.edu/Projects/MitigationKy, to provide useful contacts, suggested readings, information about upcoming conferences and workshops, and links to other disaster management sites. We hope the Martin School can become a disaster resource center for Kentucky that uses its many assets to assist local citizens in developing disaster resistant communities.
The initial challenges to the program have been establishing contacts in every county and building trust in the project objectives. Working through the 14 state disaster and emergency management area coordinators and the area development districts, we have compiled lists of local politicians and business leaders. However, in some areas, these resources have proven to be inadequate, making the process of identifying key people throughout the state difficult and slow.
In all instances, there has been a concerted effort to listen to the people in local communities and to see things from their perspective. We do not want the project to be viewed as just another state agency trying to tell local people what to do. Throughout the state, participants expressed their belief that local communities need more control over their disaster management decisions, but also need the financial support of the state to carry through with disaster mitigation projects. Local leaders have also expressed concern that the state does not demonstrate enough commitment from the top for disaster management and hazard mitigation.
In addition, community leaders indicated concern about what they see as conflicting information. We often heard complaints that FEMA says one thing while the state emergency management office and the local emergency managers say another. A major barrier in designing mitigation plans within the counties is lack of building codes and ordinances--and particularly, lack of enforcement of those that do exist. Cultural differences also abound throughout the state, particularly in eastern Kentucky, where there is a lack of adequate land for development and a history of land misuse following decades of mining and timber extraction.
Focus participants stressed the need for community education as well as the need to develop disaster management and hazard mitigation educational tools suitable for elementary and middle schools. Most participants felt strongly that the message needs to be directed at children to effect a meaningful change in collective behavior.
Local officials also believe that unless mitigation efforts can be shown to have a positive financial effect upon the
community, it is unlikely citizens will buy into mitigation planning. In focus group sessions, we frequently heard the comment, Get to them through their wallet.
The project is a success and has been funded for an additional year. Working with the state geological society, which is housed on the University of Kentucky campus, we are seeking ways to incorporate other disciplines into the project. In addition, we are providing information and assistance to the city of Louisville, which was selected as a FEMA Project Impact community. We have developed presentations for the annual Governor's Emergency Management Workshop and are currently developing a hazard mitigation workbook based on the model mitigation plan for the state of Kentucky.
Pat Trotter, Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Kentucky
For further information about the Hazard Mitigation Adoption Project, contact the author at the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, 415 Paterson Office Tower, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0027; (606) 257-8485, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an effort to educate homeowners about ways to reduce their risks from hurricanes and earthquakes, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium; the city of Charleston, South Carolina; and the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service have joined forces to transform a 125-year-old abandoned house into a model of sustainable building practices. The project, 113 Calhoun Street: A Center for Sustainable Living, will become an example of how improved building materials and methods can help structures survive high winds, floods, and earthquakes. The center will educate architects, engineers, designers, contractors, and the general public through exhibits, workshops, and news releases. Using old and new construction practices, renovators will incorporate environmentally sound materials and building methods, leaving exposed areas for visitors to see how improvements were made.
Principle funding for the renovation and hazard retrofit phase of the project was provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Additional funds are being provided by State Farm Insurance and the South Carolina Association for Hazard Mitigation. Several companies have offered in-kind donations of products and services.
Modifications to the building include replacing the foundation with a block foundation and bolting the structure to it; elevating the building to base flood level; installing metal tie-downs from roof to foundation; improving the performance of roofing shingles in high winds; and attaching roof decking with screws and using adhesives to provide extra wind protection. In addition, the center will exhibit a variety of storm window coverings, methods for repairing flood damage, and techniques for securing heavy objects to prevent tipping and falling in earthquakes.
For more information about the Calhoun Street Project, contact Bob Bacon, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, 387 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401; (843) 727-2075; fax: (843) 727-2080; WWW: http://www.csc.noaa.gov/SCSeaGrant/text/113Calhoun.html.
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