Long-term (covid, Fiona, Ian): a postscript.

Journalism has been artfully described as “history’s first rough draft.” Blogging is something less: perhaps “thought’s scratchwork?” Posts are certainly ephemeral – and often they deserve to be. They may be short of context: they typically contain only a single idea, and or only the germ of that idea. The ideas aren’t even guaranteed to be good. They often lack the kind of rigor enforced in science by experiment and peer review; and imposed in journalism by legwork and consultation with original (usually multiple) sources, followed by the steely-eyed scrutiny of editors. Like scratchwork, blogposts are most useful only when/if they capture, improve upon, or contribute to a larger, more deliberative thought process of the author or others.

On the positive side, that feedback process can be quick. Take Wednesday’s LOTRW post, drawing comparisons between hurricane losses and long-term covid. Less than 24 hours after posting, this email came in, containing gentle advice from a close colleague:

Meant to share a very interesting storymap with you, Bill. Here’s a link, if you haven’t seen this already — https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/news/harms-way-hurricane-idas-impact-socially-vulnerable-communities

My ignorance was even greater than she realized. Storymap? Is that even a thing? The new-to-me mashup-word sent me scurrying to the internet, to find this:

A story map is a graphic organizer that helps students learn the elements of a narrative. Learning to identify a story’s characters, plot, setting, problem, and solution prompts students to read carefully to learn the important details. There are many different types of story maps.

Closer to my colleague’s point, there is also this description from an ESRI website:

A story can effect change, influence opinion, and create awareness—and maps are an integral part of storytelling. ArcGIS StoryMaps can give your narrative a stronger sense of place, illustrate spatial relationships, and add visual appeal and credibility to your ideas.

(Okay. Yet another wondrous-but-simultaneously-humbling reminder of the marvelous advances eight billion people can and do make while our backs are turned…)

So, then, jumped to the NOAA storymap in question. Published this past June, and entitled In Harm’s Way, it tracks the impacts of last year’s Hurricane Ida (not to be confused with this year’s Ian) as it tracked across the United States.

What a remarkable piece! It starts out this way:

In the past, storms like Hurricane Ida could have simply been seen as a natural disaster, affecting both economically advantaged and disadvantaged alike. But it’s becoming readily apparent that low-income communities suffer more damage and are at greater risk from extreme events. Research shows they are less prepared for the effects of extreme weather events. 

Often, residents of low-income communities don’t have the resources to evacuate, recover, or adapt in the face of extreme events. Additionally, the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations are frequently compounded—such as the COVID-19 pandemic, inland flooding, and rising global temperatures, in Hurricane Ida’s case.

With every climate-related disaster in the nation, economic damages are measured and addressed, while the human toll is less readily assessed. Residents of the most-at-risk communities are increasingly pushed into permanent displacement, homelessness, or deeper into poverty. As disasters become more frequent in a changing climate, vulnerable communities find it more challenging to recover and too costly to try to rebuild or retreat.

Hopefully, you’ll find time to read the full NOAA storymap. Definitely lives up to that earlier promise: a story can effect change, influence opinion, and create awareness—and maps are an integral part of storytelling. But a warning! Don’t expect it to be a quick read, the way so much web-based content can be. It’s information rich – has more in common with poetry than with prose, with rich chocolate than potato chips.

A big takeaway for me in the context of yesterday’s LOTRW post? In the comparisons between hurricane and covid impacts I failed to make explicit the important role of pre-existing conditions. In the case of covid, adults and children who are immuno-compromised or suffering from chronic heart disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease, sickle cell anemia, etc., are at greater risk. What’s more, these vulnerabilities correlate with age-, income-, education-, and race-ethnicity disparities. The NOAA storymap and many other sources drive home the connection of these preexisting susceptibilities and inequalities to the hurricane case.

A final postscript on a postscript? Yesterday the Washington Post ran a story highlighting the scale and degree of the suffering and impact of Ian on those at ground-zero, especially those with preexisting vulnerabilities.


Makes it all the more important to look for ways and means to build up community-wide resilience to hurricanes and other hazards analogous to the herd immunity acquired in the face of infectious disease. That can be done! More on that in the next post.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Long-term (covid, Fiona, Ian): a postscript.

  1. Bill:-

    I was in the process of writing a longish commentary on the previous post when I saw this. Thanks! Perfect backdrop to what I wanted to say.

    If we’re serious about community resilience to disasters, we have to increase our immunity to them (remembering that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is not!”). But what’s that really mean?

    1. We have to find ways to increase the resources of those at the bottom. I can tell you from my time in Mississippi that those communities that thrived were those that concentrated on increasing the size of the economic pie. However much we may look back on the Trump years with distaste, the policies Congress put in place did help those at the bottom begin to make real economic gains. Redistribution of the same pie is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; making the pie bigger can help everybody.

    2. The Science of disasters is way ahead of its applications. We need to focus on reducing the time constant for knowledge implementation. That means getting information to regulators in a form they can understand and implement in the form of improved building codes (It took four major tornadoes before Moore, OK, finally adopted improved building codes. While there was wailing and gnashing of teeth by developers over the increased cost of new homes, it ultimately is budget dust for new home buyers.).

    It also means developing affordable technologies that low-income homeowners can use to fortify existing homes, and getting them in use. The average life of a home is about 50 years – if we really want to take a bite out of the knowledge time constant we have to address existing homes.

    The federal government could be a big help here. For example, for several years Savannah GA had a “Hurricane Institute” funded by Project Impact. In low-income areas, people would be shown the potential impacts of a storm and then shown what they could do with $50, $100 and so on to fortify their homes. Charleston, SC, had its own take on Projet Impact which the Low Country COG was able to fund for several years even after the feds killed Project Impact.

    3. We know a great deal about how to prevent the devastation to buildings, and things that businesses can do to protect themselves. The folks at NIST, the IBHS and FIU’s “Wall of Wind” continue to add to this knowledge base in terms of storm damage (As an aside, it’s a shame that the Corps of Engineers is no longer using its “shake table” to study earthquake damage; or that Oak Ridge and Tuskegee are no longer dunking homes to look at the ravages of long-term flooding.). I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize Erica Kuligowski’s work on wildfires. The good people at resilience.org – Erica Seville, John Vargo, Tracy Hatton and others – have done yeoman’s work at finding how businesses have successfully fortified themselves for an uncertain future. Adam Rose at USC (West) deserves mention for this, as well.

    As you may recall, one of my continuing themes over the last couple of years has been how important it is for decision-makers to define victory. In this case, victory should be drastically reducing losses of life and livelihoods due to disaster. The question for me is do we have the leadership – especially in our communities – who will commit to the fight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *