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.